Maximum security for Fritzl horrors

March 16, 2009 12:00 am

, Austria, Mar 16  – Josef Fritzl, who locked his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and repeatedly raped her, goes on trial on Monday facing a life jail term to put the seal on his international notoriety.

Outrage caused by the case means Fritzl’s trial will be held in maximum security conditions with the airspace over the Austrian court house sealed off, while his daughter and her children have again sought the haven of a clinic.

The 73-year-old retired electrical engineer will plead guilty to incest, rape, sequestration and grievous assault for imprisoning his daughter Elisabeth and fathering seven children, his lawyer Rudolf Mayer said.

But he will contest charges of slavery and the murder of one of the children, which carries a life sentence.

Fritzl has been charged with letting one of the seven babies he fathered die shortly after birth, failing to seek medical help, even though he knew its life was in danger.

Fritzl maintains that the baby, whose body he burnt in a wood-fired boiler in the cellar, was still-born.

Elisabeth Fritzl’s case stunned international opinion last April when the eldest cellar child had to be hospitalised and her ordeal in the house in the small town of Amstetten was brought to light.

The trial, presided by three judges, is being held in the regional capital of Sankt Poelten  and the eight person jury is expected to give a verdict on Friday.

Only Josef Fritzl and court experts are expected to appear on the stand.

About 13 hours of testimony by Elisabeth Fritzl and her children have been videotaped to spare them an appearance in court, as allowed under Austrian law in cases of sexual abuse.

Most of the proceedings will be behind closed doors, to protect the victims. Less than 100 media representatives have been accredited for the trial. They will ordered out of the court after the charges have been read and only allowed back for the verdict.

Fritzl confessed shortly after his arrest to locking up his daughter and fathering her children. DNA tests later confirmed this.

Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie, 69, had reported the 18-year-old Elisabeth missing in 1984, saying she had joined a sect.

But she was locked up in a cold, cramped cellar in the family’s apartment building where she was regularly raped and gave birth to seven children in the bunker.

Three children were brought to live with their grandparents while the other three spent their entire lives in the dungeon, never seeing daylight until their release last year. The seventh baby died shortly after birth.

The dungeon, which Fritzl gradually expanded to 40 square metres (430 square feet), with three rooms and a small kitchen and bathroom area, had no hot water, heating, sunlight or fresh air.

Despite putting electric locks on the doors, Fritzl tried to create a new family, eating meals with them, singing birthday songs to the children and teaching them to read and write, according to his lawyer.

"He loved them in his own weird way," said Mayer.

Rosemarie Fritzl maintains she never knew her daughter was living below and police never declared her a suspect.

A psychiatric expert established in October that Fritzl was entirely responsible for his actions.

The prosecution has however requested that he be placed in a psychiatric institution.

Bankruptcy proceedings are also about to start against Fritzl, who invested heavily in real estate. Creditors are claiming 3.5 million euros (4.4 million dollars) in unpaid bills and taxes.

Under an intense media spotlight, dozens of police will guard the court and adjacent prison in Sankt Poelten, where Fritzl is being held. Air space above the facility will be off limits for the trial.

Security has also been boosted at the house in Amstetten, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Vienna.

Elisabeth Fritzl and her children, who are meant to be trying to start a new life under a different name, have moved back to the clinic in Amstetten-Mauer where they spent their first months of freedom, for safety reasons.

They have said they wish no contact with the media who are reported to have made huge offers to Fritzl’s representatives to get the first pictures of the inside of the house of horrors.


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