By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The man accused of abducting and raping three women and holding them captive for years is due to appear in a Cleveland court on Friday amid media reports that an agreement is in the works that would allow him to avoid the death penalty.
Cleveland television station WKYC reported on Thursday that prosecutors had offered Ariel Castro a deal, and WOIO-TV said an agreement was imminent. But Castro's lawyer Jay Schlachet told Reuters reports that an agreement had been reached "were false".
Joe Frolik, a spokesman for Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty, said he had no comment on the reports.
Cuyahoga County court spokeswoman Laura Creed said in an email, "The parties have entered into plea negotiations on this case." She said the hearing had been scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
Castro's lawyers have said for weeks that they would consider an agreement under which the former Cleveland school bus driver would plead guilty to some charges in return for his life.
Castro, 53, has been charged with 977 counts including kidnapping and repeated rape. He has also been charged with murder under a fetal homicide law for allegedly forcing one of the women to miscarry. The murder charge could carry the death penalty.
Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27 were freed from Castro's home in a rundown area of Cleveland on May 6. Also freed was a 6-year-old girl who, according to DNA evidence, was fathered by Castro with Berry during her captivity.
The women had been bound for periods of time in chains or ropes and endured starvation, beatings and sexual assaults, according to court documents and a police report. Avoiding a trial would spare them from having to testify.
If no plea agreement is reached, Castro's trial is scheduled to begin on August 5.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Greg McCune, Toni Reinhold)