Austrian who confined daughter for 24 years convicted of murder
The jury in the trial of an Austrian man who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years and fathered her seven children convicted him Thursday on all charges, including the murder of his infant son.
The court sentenced Josef Fritzl to life imprisonment in a secure psychiatric facility. Fritzl accepted the verdicts, three times telling the judge he would not be appealing the decision.
Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said his client expected to spend the rest of his life incarcerated.
"My client has accepted the verdict and I hope he feels the verdict is fair," Mayer told reporters at the end of the trial.
Fritzl, 73, was accused of imprisoning his daughter Elisabeth for 24 years, and pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of murder, rape, incest, coercion, false imprisonment and enslavement.
Fritzl will be transferred to a prison in Vienna for assessment to determine the type of therapy that he will receive and the facility where he will be sent.
Austrian officials said Fritzl will be moved into a traditional prison when psychiatric experts decide his therapy has been a success. If he is moved to a traditional prison, he will be able to seek early release after he has served a minimum of 15 years. Judges and psychiatric experts would have to concur with any decision to free him, said officials.
Most serious charge involved death of newborn
Fritzl initially had only pleaded guilty to incest charges. He denied imprisoning his daughter in a basement cell under his Amstetten home, and denied responsibility for the death of his infant son, who was born in 1996.
Prosecutors had contended that the newborn might have survived if Fritzl had arranged for proper medical care, resulting in a charge of "murder by neglect." It was the most serious charge and the jury handed down the maximum punishment allowed under Austrian law.
After viewing more than 11 hours of video testimony from Elisabeth — who had also unexpectedly appeared in the courtroom — Fritzl told the court that he had decided to acknowledge his guilt on all counts.
But Mayer had asked jurors to seriously consider the murder charge. "Look closely at murder," Mayer said. "In my opinion, that's not what it is."
Prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser argued that "any amateur could have determined that the child was in the throes of death for 66 hours."
Burkheiser had called for a maximum sentence for Fritzl during closing arguments at the trial in St. Poelten, west of Vienna, earlier on Thursday.
Jurors should not show Fritzl mercy just because he pleaded guilty, Burkheiser argued. She urged the jury to consider the quarter-century ordeal his daughter endured.
At a news conference after the verdict, court officials said Elisabeth could bring a separate civil case against Fritzl to seek damages for her suffering, adding there was no limit to what she could request.
They said the Austrian government would join in on bankruptcy proceedings that Fritzl recently initiated, and said the process could involve selling his seven real estate holdings — including the house in Amstetten where he held his daughter.
Fritzl's pleas 'were not a confession'
Eva Plaz, a lawyer for Elisabeth and the other victims, also urged the jury not to lessen Fritzl's sentence just because he pleaded guilty.
Under Austrian law, a guilty plea is not sufficient to convict someone, but can be a mitigating factor in lessening the sentence.
Fritzl's pleas "were not a confession," Plaz said, and should not be taken as a sign of remorse.
"What you heard yesterday was no confession. Why did he only yesterday change his mind?" she said, suggesting his motive was simply a milder sentence.
'I can't make it right anymore'
Fritzl told the court Thursday that he regretted his actions. "I can't make it right anymore," he said.
Psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner testified Wednesday she believes Fritzl has a serious personality disorder and would pose a threat if freed. Fritzl has a need to control people and should serve out his sentence at a psychiatric facility, she testified.
Kastner added that Fritzl may also be a suicide risk after having conceded full guilt for the crimes.
"His house of cards collapsed. He will find it hard to live with this new reality," Kastner said.
The case came to light when Elisabeth's 19-year-old daughter, Kerstin, became ill and was taken to hospital by Fritzl last April.
Suspicious of the man's behaviour, authorities compared Fritzl's DNA to a sample taken from Kerstin, and made a televised appeal for the mother to come forward with information about the girl's medical history.
Daughter, children recovering
Elisabeth persuaded her father to let her leave the basement for the first time in 24 years so she could meet the doctors. She and her father were detained on April 26, allowing her to finally reveal her ordeal to authorities.
Kerstin and two siblings, aged 18 and 5, had never been outside the tiny cellar where they were born. Their other three surviving siblings were raised in the home above them.
The children, together with Elisabeth, initially were sent to a psychiatric clinic and then were moved to a secret location.
To ensure their security and privacy during the trial, they returned to the clinic, where guards have been on high alert.
With files from the Associated Press