Fritzl changes murder plea to guilty

19th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Fritzl said his change of heart had come after seeing his daughter describe her quarter century of sexual abuse in a dark, damp cellar during video testimony played at the trial.

Sankt Poelten -- Josef Fritzl changed his plea Wednesday to guilty of murder and slavery in a move that stunned the court, who heard how he locked up his daughter for 24 years and forced her to bear seven children.

The 73-year-old Austrian said his change of heart had come after seeing his daughter Elisabeth describe her quarter century of sexual abuse in a dark, damp cellar during video testimony played at the trial.

"I plead guilty to the crimes I've been charged with," Fritzl told the court.

"I'm sorry," he added in a low tone, shocked and shame-faced, almost in tears.

The retired electrical engineer had pleaded guilty to incest, rape and sequestration on Monday but denied murder, for which he faces a life prison term, and enslavement, a charge used for the first time in Austria.

Asked by the judge what caused him to change his plea, Fritzl replied: "My daughter's videotaped testimony."

Fritzl had to watch the testimony on Monday and Tuesday and was questioned about his treatment of her. The Kurier newspaper reported that Elisabeth, now 42, made an unexpected appearance in court while Fritzl was being questioned.

Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, would not confirm or deny that she was in court, but fuelled speculation that she had an impact on his decision to change his pleas.

"If some of the victims were present (in court) yesterday, that certainly must have had a strong trigger effect," he said.

Elisabeth Fritzl and her children have sought refuge in a specialist clinic during the trial to avoid publicity. Authorities are attempting to give them a new start in life under a new identity.

The prosecution has accused Fritzl of murder for letting a baby die shortly after birth in the cellar. Fritzl had maintained the baby was stillborn and burnt the body in a boiler.

But he admitted Wednesday that he was present at the birth and that it had developed breathing problems.

"I don't know why I didn't help," he told the court. "I should have noticed that the baby was not doing well. I just hoped it would survive."

A psychiatrist told the court that Fritzl felt he was "born to rape," and said he should be placed in a psychiatric facility because there was a risk he would commit new offences.

"The danger is still very much there that he will re-offend if he is not treated," said Adelheid Kastner.
"It is necessary that he continue being treated until he can no longer be classified as dangerous."

"On the surface, everything functions smoothly. But deep down, his unfulfilled needs are simmering," Kastner said.

"He is aware -- he says so himself -- that he has an evil side."

"You have to imagine an avalanche. At first it's very small but the fantasy then grows. Always with the knowledge: I should not. But it would be so good, it would be so nice."

Out of his seven legitimate children, Fritzl told Kastner he had chosen Elisabeth as his victim, "because she was most like me. She was as stubborn as me, as strong as me."

He had told her: "the stronger your opponent, the bigger the victory," she added.

The psychiatrist said Fritzl had sought domination over his captives.

During the trial, the jurors have heard how Fritzl used his daughter "as a toy" during her captivity in a narrow cellar with no hot water, no heating, no fresh air or sunlight.

Fritzl's lawyer however has insisted his client only wanted a second family and genuinely cared for his daughter and her children.

Two technical experts also gave a description of the cellar in which Fritzl locked his daughter and the children.

Fritzl had initially claimed that a timed mechanism ensured that three electronically-locked doors would open automatically to let the prisoners out, if something happened to him.

But the experts found no such installation upon examination of the doors.

Three children were brought up to live with Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie while three lived with Elisabeth and never left the dungeon until their release last April.

The trial was adjourned so the three judges could prepare questions to help the jury make its verdict. Closing statements were to be given Thursday when a verdict and sentencing is expected.

Ralf Isermann/AFP/Expatica

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