An Austrian man who raped, imprisoned and abused his daughter for 24 years and fathered seven children with her pleaded guilty to all charges on Wednesday, including murder and enslavement, a surprising turnabout three days after the court began the trial.
Defendant Josef Fritzl arrives for his trial after a break at the court of law in Sankt Poelten in Austria’s province of Lower Austria March 17, 2009.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
Josef Fritzl, a 73-year-old retired engineer, had previously admitted incest but denied murder and enslavement, two gravest charges. He suddenly changed his plea after watching the video testimony of the victim, his daughter Elisabeth.
“I plead guilty to the crimes I’ve been charged with. I’m sorry,” Fritzl said.
The Austrian admitted failing to seek help when one of the new-born babies experienced breathing problems and died 66 hours after birth. Police said he then burnt the baby’s body.
“I was hoping the little one would survive but I should have done something. I don’t know why I didn’t help. I just lost sight (of what happened),” he said in court.
Meanwhile, in a report presented to the court, psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner concluded that Fritzl has warped characteristics, but was not a psychotic, ruling out the possibility that the man be exempted from punishment for mental disease.
However, she said Fritzl should be placed in a mental facility to avoid possible re-offences “until he can no longer be classified as dangerous.”
The court is expected to announce the verdict on Thursday.
For nearly a quarter of a century since 1984, Fritzl’s daughter Elisabeth, now 42, had been locked up by him in a cellar under their house, where she experienced brutal sexual abuses and gave birth to seven babies in the damp, cold and dark dungeon. Three of the children, together with Elisabeth, had never seen daylight.
The jaw-dropping crime has aroused waves of worldwide concern since it came to light last April, when Fritzl took one of the children to hospital.
The case, among several similar ones in recent years, has seriously tainted Austria’s image, famously featured by wonderful music and beautiful scenery.
In 1998, a 10-year-old girl in Austria was kidnapped by a man on her way to school. She was celled and sexually abused by more than eight years before managing to escape in 2006.
In 2007, three Austrian girls, aged 14, 18 and 21, were found having been locked up by their mother in a house for seven years, neglected and isolated from the outside world.
Last year, then Austrian Prime Minister Alfred Gusenbauer said the government would launch an image campaign to restore the country’s international reputation.