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Europe

European Press Review: The Trial of the Century Is Over

An Austrian jury has sentenced Josef Fritzl to life in a psychiatric ward, ending a case that drew revulsion around the world. The case was dealt with badly, both in the court and by public, said the European media.

Josef Fritzl, center, is escorted to a break during the second day of his trial

Fritzl will spend the rest of his life interned in a mental institute

In the German capital, the daily Berliner Zeitung spelt out its reservations about the verdict. "A maximum sentence was the very least that could have been expected," it stressed. "Since this applies to murder, Josef Fritzl had to be charged with murder. But the facts were more complex. The death of the newly-born infant Michael did not occur as a result of Fritzl's fantasies of omnipotence but in fact precisely because he was unable to control the world. The court simply ironed out the inconsistencies and contradictions, and it was the culprit himself who showed them how: He admitted to the murder but did not actually confess to it. The judges, the jury, the lawyers and even the defense were all relieved by his plea. So once again, Josef Fritzl got to be the boss."

The daily Frankfurter Rundschau was similarly dissatisfied with the outcome of the trial. "The fatal lack of interest in any further examination of this case is typical of the way the case has been treated," it wrote on Friday. "The ubiquitous coverage of this monstrous story should serve to banish a man like Josef Fritzl from his life led in our very midst as a blameless citizen. But apparently, the cultural status quo which we are supposedly defending, is precisely what enables a deviant, extreme existence such as Fritzl's."

But Austria's liberal daily Der Standard reacted angrily to suggestions that the trial had been rushed. "There are no grounds for the criticism from the German media in particular that the trial was too short," it argued. "What would be the point of drawing it out when the facts of the case are clear? The video evidence given by the daughter was most probably damaging enough and a few excerpts were enough for the jury to reach a conclusion which was already obvious after the guilty plea. Any willful extension (of the trial) would have been solely for the benefit of the sensationalists and would not have been in the trial's interests."

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung, meanwhile, was simply glad the trial was over: "(His) extreme personality leaves one speechless. It could be that the confrontation with his daughter's eleven-hour testimony left this terrible man so shaken that his emotional amour was actually punctured. The fact he accepted the verdict without resistance would seem to prove this. And this was the sole comfort in a sea of horror."

In London, The Guardian wondered what the case will mean for Austria's image. "The trial of the century is over," it commented. "The media circus is loading up the lorries, departing a small town in lower Austria, probably never to return to St. Poelten. And Austria is squirming, trapped in the floodlights of the international entertainment industry that is unable to get enough of the ghoul of Amstetten, eager to get back to the cosy complacencies of "normal life" and see the back of the foreign commentariat harping on about Nazis, concentration camps, and that other Austrian monster, Adolf Hitler."

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