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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Josef Fritzl convicted of homicide in incest case

March 19, 2009
Associated Press

ST. POELTEN, Austria (AP) — A jury has convicted Austrian incest father Josef Fritzl of homicide for the death in captivity of one of seven children he fathered with the daughter he imprisoned for 24 years.

Jurors did not immediately pronounce a sentence Thursday, but Fritzl faces up to life imprisonment for the charge
ST. POELTEN, Austria (AP) — Prosecutors urged an Austrian jury to hand down a life sentence Thursday to Josef Fritzl — who imprisoned his daughter in a windowless cell for 24 years and fathered her seven children — and not to show mercy just because he pleaded guilty.

In a weak and shaky voice, Fritzl told the court Thursday: "I regret it with all my heart. ... I can't make it right anymore."

Prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser called for the maximum punishment in her closing arguments in Fritzl's trial in St. Poelten, west of Vienna. She urged the jury to think about his daughter Elisabeth's nearly quarter-century ordeal as it considers how much time he should serve.
"Don't be duped like Elisabeth was 24 years ago," when Fritzl took her captive in a cramped, rat-infested dungeon he built beneath the family's home.

The eight-member jury began deliberating at midmorning. Verdicts and sentences were expected Thursday afternoon in the case, which has drawn worldwide attention.

Fritzl, 73, pleaded guilty Wednesday to all the charges against him, including homicide for the 1996 death in captivity of an infant boy. Prosecutors contend the ailing newborn — a male twin called Michael — might have survived if Fritzl had arranged for medical care.

"Any amateur could have determined that the child was in the throes of death for 66 hours," Burkheiser said, arguing that Fritzl should be locked up for the rest of his life for refusing to intervene and save the baby's life.

Fritzl also has pleaded guilty to enslavement, rape, incest, forced imprisonment and coercion.
Eva Plaz, a lawyer for Elisabeth and the other victims, urged the jury not to lessen Fritzl's sentence just because he pleaded guilty. In Austria, guilty pleas can be a mitigating factor.
Fritzl's pleas "were not a confession," Plaz said, adding that Elisabeth's main reason for testifying was that she believed she "owed it to her child, Michael."

Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, did not argue that Fritzl was innocent — even telling the court at one point that Fritzl raped his daughter 3,000 times. But he said Fritzl had been plagued with guilt for the past 24 years, and he asked the jurors to take a hard look at the homicide charge.
"Look closely at murder," Mayer said, referring to the homicide count — literally "murder by neglect" in German. "In my opinion, that's not what it is," he said.

Mayer said Elisabeth made no mention in her diary of her baby's struggle to survive, noting instead that Fritzl brought her a crib, that both twins were born without incident and that their names were Michael and Alexander.

The Associated Press normally withholds the names of victims of sexual assault. In this case, withholding Elisabeth's name became impractical when her name and her father's were announced publicly by police and details about them became the subject of publicity both in their home country and around the world.

Mayer confirmed Thursday that Elisabeth had been in the courtroom earlier this week, and he said Fritzl decided to stop contesting the homicide and enslavement counts after viewing her 11-hour heart-wrenching videotaped testimony.

Elisabeth, the prosecution's key witness, is 42. She was 18 when Fritzl imprisoned her in the squalid cell he built beneath the family's home in the town of Amstetten, where he raped her for years, sometimes in front of the children.

Elisabeth and her six surviving children, who range in age from 6 to 20, have spent months recovering in a psychiatric clinic and at a secret location. Prosecutors have described her as a "broken" woman.

Police say DNA tests prove Fritzl is the biological father of all six surviving children, three of whom never saw daylight until the crime was exposed 11 months ago.

The three other children were brought upstairs to be raised by Fritzl and his wife, Rosemarie, who was led to believe they were abandoned by Elisabeth when she ran off to join a cult.

Psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner told the court Wednesday that Fritzl has a serious personality disorder and would pose a threat to others if freed. She recommended that Fritzl serve his sentence in a special prison for psychologically deranged criminals or a ward for abnormal criminals in a regular jail.

Associated Press Writer William J. Kole in Vienna contributed to this report

Josef Fritzl will spend the rest of his life in a top-security psychiatric hospital for murdering a baby boy he fathered during the 24 years he kept his daughter Elisabeth locked up in a cellar.

Fritzl, 73, was jailed for life after a jury in St Poelten, Austria, unanimously found him guilty of murder at the end of a four-day trial at which he had already admitted incest, rape, false imprisonment and coercion.

The jury also convicted Fritzl of slavery – making him the first man to be convicted of the offence in Austria.

The murder charge related to Michael Fritzl, one of seven children Fritzl fathered by his daughter Elisabeth as he raped her more than 3,000 times.

The boy, one of twins, died in April 1996, just 66 hours after he was born. He developed breathing difficulties but Fritzl refused to seek medical help, making him guilty of "homicide by neglect".

He had changed his not guilty plea to the murder and slavery charges on Wednesday, having previously denied them, but the local judicial system dictated that the jury still had to return a formal verdict.

Earlier, Fritzl had apologised "from the bottom of my heart" for the horrific torture he meted out to Elisabeth. He claimed he wished he could "make amends" for his appalling crimes.

His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, told the court that Fritzl's earlier decision to change his plea to guilty had come after he saw Elisabeth in court on Tuesday. "He burst into tears and when he saw Elisabeth actually in court it was all over for him," said Mr Mayer.

Speaking in a faltering voice, Fritzl, 73, told the jury: "I regret from the bottom of my heart what I did to my family. "Unfortunately I can't make amends for it. I can only try to find ways to limit the damage that has been done."

But the prosecutor, Christiane Burkheiser, dismissed Fritzl's last-minute confession as a cynical ploy to win a more lenient sentence. She said: "I don't see it as a confession but rather as an attempt to improve his position, to gain advantage through a show of weakness.

"At the last curtain call in the last act of this drama he is showing his true face in trying to exploit people's gullibility. Do not be deceived. Do not be manipulated."

Referring to the day in 1984 when Fritzl imprisoned his daughter after tricking her to go down to the cellar by asking her for help carrying a door, the prosecutor added: "Don't carry the door into the cellar like Elisabeth did 24 years ago."

Mr Mayer said Fritzl's confession to murder and slavery, which he had denied until Wednesday, came after he had seen his daughter sitting in court, and watched her harrowing 11-hour videotaped statement.

He said: "After he saw the video, after he had seen what she was saying, how she was, he saw her point of view, her experience of this time, which he was incapable of seeing at the time because of his inability to love.

"When my client was confronted with this you could see him break down. The judge asked him what he thought of what he had seen and Mr Fritzl said: 'What I saw was shocking.' "He accepted Elisabeth's version. He was shattered and broken inside. He was not trying to deceive the court."

Mr Mayer referred to extracts from Elisabeth's diaries, written at the time of Michael's death, which had earlier been read to the court. Michael and his twin brother Alexander were born on April 28, 1996, and Elisabeth recorded on April 30 that they had been named. But at 12.15pm that day she wrote: "Michael has died."

Mr Mayer claimed the diaries gave no hint that Fritzl knew Michael was dying, and so "it was not murder". Elisabeth Fritzl's lawyer, Eva Plaz, told the eight jurors that her client had found it painful giving evidence but went through with it because "she had to make him responsible for Michael's death. She owed it to her dead child".

Elisabeth believed Fritzl "always knew the child's death was his fault". She added: "Michael was suffering. Fritzl knew it and he let him die. He was the master of life and death. He has shown no regret, in any case I haven't felt any of it."

Fritzl fathered seven children by his daughter during her 24 years in captivity, raping her more than 3,000 times. Mr Mayer said his client's mental health must be taken into account when considering the appropriate sentence.

"My client was responsible for his actions," he said. "But his personality has psychological abnormalities. He didn't choose to be the way he is."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This man should be punished for the rest of his days on this earth. He should be treated just like he treated Elizabeth and the kids. Ne needs to go without light and oxygen and be in a very confined space. Make him suffer. Make his last days Hell on earth. May he spend the rest of his days paying for what he has done. These people will never be right. Elizabeth is a strong lady. Thank God for her willfulness. I don't think he broke her spirit not totally. Thank God for that, it kept her going.