Austria′s Fritzl Admits Incest, Denies Murder | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.03.2009
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Austria's Fritzl Admits Incest, Denies Murder

Austrian Josef Fritzl, accused of locking his daughter in a basement for 24 years and fathering her seven children, pleaded guilty to incest, but said he is innocent of murder and enslavement charges as his trial opened.

Josef Fritzl in court Monday, March 16

Fritzl hid behind a binder folder during the first day of his trial

In a Sankt Poelten court on Monday, Fritzl faced the the opening of the 11 hours of videotaped testimony against him given by his daughter Elisabeth, who was spared a court appearance as allowed under Austrian law. The testimony will continue to be shown in the coming days of the closed-door trial.

The main charge against the 73-year-old Austrian relates to the murder of a newborn boy who died in a secret cellar under his house in 1996. Fritzl also faces charges of rape, coercion and enslavement of his daughter, as well as incest and deprivation of her liberty and that of three of her children.

As the trial opened, prosecutors accused Fritzl of repeatedly having raped Elisabeth in front of her young children.

Fritzl, who was deemed fit for trial following a psychiatric assessment in October, could face a sentence of 10 to 15 years or life in prison if the eight-member jury finds him guilty of murder.

Under Austrian law, sentences are not cumulative, so he will serve only the longest of the sentences he receives for the crimes he is deemed to have committed.

Lawyer to contest murder charge

Police photo of Josef Fritzl

The Austrian says one of his secret cellar children was stillborn, not murdered

Fritzl's lawyer said that the charge of enslavement was inappropriate and that he would contest the murder charge by maintaining that the baby was still-born. Prosecutors say Fritzl is responsible for the twin baby's death because he failed to seek medical help for the infant.

Neither Elisabeth nor her children are expected to appear at the trial, which will be presided over by three judges. They are now living in a secret location under new identities.

Fritzl's appearance at the court on Monday morning was the first time he had been seen in public since his arrest on April 26 last year. He attempted to cover his face with a blue binder.

Due to the personal nature of the testimony, no journalists will be allowed inside the court. Instead, there will be daily press briefings with updates on the proceedings. The media will be admitted into the court for the verdict, which is expected Friday.

A case that shocked the world

A man looks at a poster painted by victims of the Austrian incest crime at the main square in Amstetten, Austria.

Fritzl's victims thanked the public for their support via this poster

The shocking case came to light in April last year when Elisabeth's oldest child, 19-year-old Kerstin, who had lived her entire life underground with two brothers and her mother, fell ill and had to be hospitalized.

Three of Elisabeth's other children had at an early age been brought to live upstairs with Fritzl and his wife, Rosemarie. They had no knowledge of their mother and siblings living in the soundproofed cellar below the family home.

Fritzl told his wife that the children had been abandoned by Elisabeth, who he said had run off to join a sect. Police say Rosemarie was unaware of her husband's second life in the windowless basement complex. Shortly after his arrest, Fritzl confessed to raping and holding his daughter for 24 years with no sunlight, fresh air, heating or hot water. DNA tests later confirmed he is the father of her six surviving children.

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