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Ariel Castro now faces 977-count indictment, prosecutors announce

Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters file

Ariel Castro sits with his head down between his attorneys Jaye Schlachet, right, and Craig Weintraub, left, during his pre-trial hearing on charges including rape, kidnapping and murder in Cleveland, Ohio on June 19, 2013.

Accused Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro now faces more than 977 counts including aggravated murder, prosecutors announced Friday as they tacked on hundreds of new counts to the man’s sprawling indictment.

Castro, 53, now stands charged with 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, and a half-dozen assault counts, among other charges, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday.

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped Castro’s home in Cleveland on May 6 with the help of neighbors after Berry forced her way out a barricaded front door. Attorneys for the three women have said that they would like to see the case brought to a quick conclusion.

“Today’s indictment moves us closer to resolution of this gruesome case,” Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said in a statement. “Our investigation continues, as does our preparation for trial.”

The new counts of aggravated murder cover “the unlawful termination of another’s pregnancy,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Castro was indicted on June 7 on more than 300 counts for the time period between August 2002 and February 2007. The indictment released on Friday brings the counts up to May of 2013.

With his head bowed the entire time, Castro pleaded not guilty to the initial 329-count indictment on June 12.

Castro will be arraigned on the new indictment on July 17, according to the prosecutor’s office. His trial is expected to start Aug. 5.

Prosecutors retained the option of seeking the death penalty for the aggravated murder charges in a later indictment, according to the statement.

A public relations representative for Berry, DeJesus, and Knight declined to comment to NBC News on the additional indictments on Friday.

The three women who were held captive released a three-minute video on YouTube earlier this week. Knight, who prosecutors say was impregnated by Castro, then punched in the stomach until she miscarried, spoke longest in the video message.

“I may have been through hell and back,” Knight said in the video, “but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground.”