SANKT POELTEN, March 19, 2009 (AFP) – "I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. Unfortunately, I can’t change anything now," Josef Fritzl told the court Thursday, just before the jury retired to consider its verdict in the murder-incest trial. But chief prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser said the remorse shown by Fritzl, who has pleaded guilty to the murder of one of the babies born in the dungeon cellar beneath the family home, was a sham.
"It was murder by neglect and that demands the maximum sentence," Burkheiser told jurors in her closing statement. The maximum sentence for murder is life imprisonment.
"Don’t believe him, he’s shown his true face in trying to exploit people’s gullibility," Burkheiser said of Fritzl and his stunning u-turn in changing his plea to guilty of murder and enslavement on Wednesday.
Fritzl’s lawyer Rudolf Mayer argued that there are "extenuating circumstances" in the case of the 73-year-old retired electrical engineer.
"Regarding the charge of murder, I don’t believe it was," Mayer said in his closing statement.
"Extenuating circumstances must be taken into consideration. My client was responsible for his actions, but his personality has psychological abnormalities. He didn’t choose to be the way he is," Mayer said.
Mayer confirmed that the imprisoned daughter, Elisabeth, had been in court on Tuesday and may have triggered the defendant’s new plea.
"At the last minute, my client realised that Elisabeth was sitting there," Mayer said.
Fritlz has confessed to holding his daughter as a sex slave in a damp, underventilated cellar for 24 years, fathering seven children with her and letting one of the babies die shortly after birth.
The jury is currently considering its verdict, which is expected to be announced early afternoon.
Elisabeth’s lawyer, Eva Plaz, also dismissed Fritzl’s change of heart.
"What you’ve heard is no confession. He is trivialising it and hopes people will believe him," she told jurors.
"The defendant has not made any murder confession. There’s not a trace of remorse. Perhaps he’s just hoping for early release," Plaz said.
"Don’t believe a word he says. The defendant wanted to be master over life and death."