Ariel Castro was sentenced to life in prison for abducting, raping and holding captive three women, and murder for forcing one of the women to abort her pregnancy.

Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo imposed the prison sentence after an emotional court hearing at which one of Castro's victims, Michelle Knight, 32, said the former school bus driver put her through a life of hell.

Ms Knight spoke in a strong voice, at times choking back tears.

"I served 11 years of hell. Now your hell is just beginning," Ms Knight said of Castro in a statement read to the court.

Castro admitted at the hearing that he was a sick man, but said he is not the monster described by prosecutors.

He delivered a rambling statement to the court that he makes no excuses for his behaviour, which he said was "wrong".

Witnesses testified in graphic terms how Castro abducted three women and imprisoned them for a decade in his home.

Testimony told how Castro sometimes kept the women in chains, isolated from each other and without regular meals.

Wearing leg shackles and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, Castro listened to the testimony without expression.

A dollhouse-like replica of Castro's house was set up in the courtroom to illustrate how he kept the women imprisoned for so long, often isolated from each other.

Castro pleaded guilty last week to hundreds of criminal charges to avoid the possibility of the death penalty.

Authorities have said Ms Knight, the first woman abducted by Castro, suffered the most physical injury from the abuse.

Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23 and Ms Knight all went missing from the west side of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004.

They were discovered on 6 May after neighbours heard Ms Berry's cries for help from Castro's home.

Cleveland policewoman Barbara Johnson, one of the first officers to arrive that day, testified that she had found two of the women in the dark house, up a staircase and behind a thick curtain, after she responded to a 911 call.

She and a male officer walked up the stairs, saying they were from the Cleveland police. There was no immediate response, but after a short time, they heard footsteps and saw Ms Knight.

"She literally launched herself into (the male policeman's) arms," Ms Johnson said. Ms DeJesus emerged timidly from another room and identified herself.

Ms Johnson said the women told her that Ms Berry had given birth to a daughter fathered by Castro while they were held captive in the house.

Ms Knight assisted in the birth, and Castro threatened to kill her if the baby died, Ms Johnson said.

The women have said little in public since they were freed, releasing one short video expressing gratitude for the support they have received and asking for privacy.

Ms Berry appeared at a concert in Cleveland on Saturday and waved to the crowd.

In a report released yesterday, prosecutors described a grim life of constant mental and physical assault and isolation after the women were abducted.

They were kept apart from each other and were often chained or restrained. They received only one meal a day and took one or two showers a week, and they had to use small plastic toilets that were not often emptied.

The three survivors told investigators Castro controlled every aspect of their lives.

A psychiatrist's opinion attached to the prosecutors' report said that despite the abuse, the women "acted with fortitude, courage and grace".