Austrian man who imprisoned daughter pleads guilty at start of trial

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Austrian man charged with keeping his daughter prisoner in a dungeon for 24 years and fathering her seven children, has pleaded guilty to rape, incest, false imprisonment and coercion but innocent to enslavement and murder at the start of his trial today.

Josef Fritzl, 73, allegedly began imprisoning and raping his daughter Elisabeth, now 42, on August 8, 1984. He lured her to the basement where she was locked in a room, handcuffed and drugged. He is charged with incest, false imprisonment, murder, rape and the enslavement. The murder charge stems from allegations that Fritzl murdered a twin of one of the children. He then disposed of the body by placing the corpse into a heated oven, burning the body. Police say the child had died shortly after being born.

Police became suspicious when a 19-year-old daughter, Kerstin, was taken to hospital with a mysterious life-threatening illness, and the family's medical records were checked. Police say that Elisabeth F. appeared to be "greatly disturbed" psychologically, and only agreed to talk after the authorities assured her that she would not have to have contact with her father, and that her children would be cared for. When authorities arrived at his home, Fritzl told police what he had done. Of the surviving six children, there are three boys and three girls, between 5 and 20 years old.

The 27 page indictment says that Fritzl "had equipped it [the cellar] with a double bed, a wash basin, a toilet, a TV, a video recorder, an oven and plastic crockery. In the cellar there was no daylight or fresh air. The only opportunity to wash was in a sink, there was no shower. There was also no hot water or heating." The indictment also stated that Fritzl's actions were "premeditated."

Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, opened the trial saying that Fritzl was "not a monster" and that Fritzl "was scared [and] regrets his actions". As a precaution to prevent media infiltration and Fritzl's escape, authorities issued a no-fly warning above the courtroom.

Fritzl was arrested on April 27, 2008, in his home in Amstetten and if convicted, he would spend the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole. The minimum sentence is said to be at least 15 years in prison. The trial is expected to last one week.