CLEVELAND (AP) -- Deep plea deal discussions hinging on the death penalty were underway for a man charged with kidnapping three women, keeping them cooped up in his run-down home and raping them repeatedly for about a decade, and a court hearing was scheduled for Friday.
Both sides in the case against former school bus driver Ariel Castro are headed back to court Friday morning before a judge who wants to be kept updated on the talks, defense attorney Jaye Schlachet said.
Cleveland TV stations reported Thursday that a plea offer had been made. Schlachet declined to comment on the status of the talks but said offers and counteroffers would be expected.
"We're in the middle of plea negotiating, that's where we're at," he said. "Plea negotiations have been undertaken which, when there's plea offers and like any other negotiations, there's offers, there's negotiations, there's acceptance of offers, things of that sort."
Friday's hearing was a "final pretrial," Laura Creed, chief judicial staff attorney for the Cuyahoga County clerk of courts, said in an email.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty's office had nothing to add beyond Wednesday's mention in court of plea negotiations, spokesman Joe Frolik said in an email.
The sticking point in the plea talks for Castro, whose trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 5, has been whether the prosecutor would rule out the death penalty as demanded by the defense. The prosecutor has that issue under review.
There was no immediate comment Thursday from the legal team representing the interests of the three women Castro is accused of kidnapping.
The 977-count indictment charges Castro with two counts of aggravated murder related to accusations he punched and starved one of the women until she miscarried. Castro, who has pleaded not guilty, also is charged with hundreds of counts of kidnapping and rape, plus assault and other crimes.
Castro, 53, is accused of repeatedly restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. The charges say one of the women tried to escape and he assaulted her with a vacuum cord around her neck.
The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s. Each said she had accepted a ride from Castro.
The women escaped to freedom on May 6 after one kicked out part of a door, called to neighbors for help and frantically told an emergency dispatcher, "I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years, and I'm, I'm here. I'm free now."
Castro was arrested within hours.