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Monday, March 16, 2009

Josef Fritzl Trial Begins

You might want to start at the bottom and read up.

One judge, spare jurors and a man trying to show Fritzl as a human
Helen Pidd
The Guardian, Tuesday 17 March 2009

The judge

Andrea Hummer specialises in hearing cases involving sex crimes. A softly spoken 48-year-old, she has been a judge for 10 years and made her name presiding over a case in St Pölten involving sex abuse at a local seminary.

The defence lawyer

Rudolf Mayer, 60, is one of Austria's most famous lawyers. In 1996 he defended two alleged neo-Nazis in the so-called "letter bomb trial", during which he revealed the true perpetrator and succeeded in getting his two clients acquitted.

He claims to have received death threats for the first time in his career since taking on Fritzl's case, and says his job is "to show Josef Fritzl as a human". Mayer claims that when Fritzl was offered his services, he said: "Yes, I know him from the TV!"

The prosecutor

Christiane Burkheiser, 33, has been working on the prosecution since Fritzl's arrest last April. Lively and extroverted, she had only been in office for 10 months when she "inherited" the case, but has since compiled the 27-page indictment.

She is often seen around St Pölten with her black, flat-coated retriever, Jogi, who accompanies her to the office. To relax, she runs and has recently taken up ju-jitsu. She recently revealed the pressure of the case has caused her to start smoking again, five years after giving up.
The expert witness

The forensic psychiatrist Heidi Kastner, 46, conducted six lengthy interviews with Fritzl. The resulting 130-page psychological report details Fritzl's destructive relationship with his mother and his "abnormal personality", and is due to be read on Thursday.

The victims' lawyer

Eva Platz has worked in victim protection for decades, and in this trial is looking after the interests of Elisabeth Fritzl and her six surviving children. Platz was on hand when Elisabeth gave her evidence last year.

The jury

It comprises people randomly chosen from lower Austria's electoral roll, aged between 25 and 65. There are 12 jurors sitting in on the trial but just eight of them will eventually return Friday's verdict - four are on standby, ready to step in should any juror feel unable to hear the harrowing details of the case.

Daughter's cellar hell: locked up for 24 years; raped 3,000 times

Josef Fritzl, the Austrian electrical engineer on trial for incarcerating his daughter in an underground prison for 24 years and fathering seven children with her, yesterday pleaded guilty to charges of rape, incest, false imprisonment and coercion.

The 73-year-old denied one charge of murder for the death of a twin boy born to his daughter, for whom Fritzl failed to seek medical help. He also denied a charge of slavery, which has been on the Austrian statute book since the 1960s, but has never been tried in court. Fritzl faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, and a maximum of life.

Prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser told the court how Fritzl had raped his daughter an estimated 3,000 times while holding her in appalling conditions.

She said he had lured his daughter into the purpose-built cellar in August 1984 when she was just 18, on the pretence of asking her to help him fix a door. He then sedated her by placing a cloth soaked with ether over her nose and mouth and slammed the door closed.

On the second day after her incarceration, he put an iron chain around her stomach, attaching it to a pole "so that she had no chance of escape".

He raped her the same day for the first time, Burkheiser said. She said the underground cell had been "his playground" and that he had "used [Elisabeth] like a toy". "He came, took her and went again," she said.

Listing the dates Elisabeth had given birth over a 12-year period, Burkheiser spoke of the pain she had felt at her father's decision to take three of the children to live with him upstairs.

"Can you imagine what that was like for her, on the one hand the relief that the child would have a better life, on the other, the fact that he was taking away her dearest?" she asked.

She detailed how his failure to fetch medical help for a twin boy called Michael, born to his daughter in 1996, had led to his death, and how he later disposed of the body by burning it.

Defending Fritzl, Rudolf Mayer said his client was not a monster, as he had been portrayed by the media. "Despite the way he's been described, try to see the accused as a human being," he told the eight-strong jury and four replacement jurors. He argued that Fritzl could have let the cellar children die and that his determination to provide for both his "upstairs" and "downstairs" families was proof that he was not a monster.

Having submitted his pleas on the six charges, Fritzl then answered detailed questions from Humer about his childhood, early adulthood and career, including his apprenticeship as an electrical engineer.

Fritzl said he had hardly known his father, who had only played a "periodic and sporadic" role in his life, and that had been abused as a child by his mother. "I had a very difficult childhood," he said in a weak and sometimes barely audible voice. "My mother rejected me. She was 42 when she had me. She just didn't want a child and she treated me accordingly."

He said he had been hit repeatedly, even for bringing school friends home. "I had friends but mother didn't allow them. I got a clip round the ear every time. Then when I was 12 I said to her: 'If you do that again I'll hit you back,' and then she stopped."

Asked if he had any friends in adulthood, Fritzl said: "I had no friends. You need to nurture friendships and I had no time for that." He told the court that he had met his wife, Rosemarie, at the age of 19, and she had been "the first woman I had sexual relations with". She had been "very domesticated, and wanted at least 10 children".

The press and public were made to leave the courtroom before a video of Elisabeth Fritzl was played on a huge screen. Investigators recorded an interview with her last July in the presence of psychiatrists, to spare her the ordeal of having to face her father in person.

Court officials said the 11-hour long recording will be played to the court in "small portions" throughout the week, due to their apparently harrowing content.

Four expert witnesses are also on hand to give evidence. For the duration of the trial, Elisabeth and her six children are being looked after in the nearby psychiatric clinic they were taken to after their release last year, having been allegedly hounded out of their new home by British paparazzi.

One British tabloid has published pictures of Elisabeth in her new environment, while another has printed the name of the village where the family had set up home in a new house.

'Light out. Rape. Light on. Rape. In front of the children. Birth. Death. Rape'

She pulled back the lid of the brown cardboard box, and invited the jurors to take a sniff at the objects inside. It was, said Christiane Burkheiser, a chance for the jury to experience for themselves the rancid stink that pervaded every inch of the underground prison beneath the family home in Amstetten, west of Vienna, where Josef Fritzl held his daughter for 24 years and allegedly raped her repeatedly.

It was one of the more dramatic moments of the opening yesterday of the long-awaited trial of the Austrian electrical engineer. No one in the public gallery could see what was in the box - children's toys, books, clothing perhaps - but the crumpled looks on the jurors' faces left little to the imagination.

The state prosecutor had felt the full impact of the cellar prison when she visited it herself. "I've seen the cellar dungeon twice," Burkheiser said. "It has a morbid atmosphere, which starts with having to crawl in on your hands and knees through the 83cm entranceway. And it's sinister. It's really bad. It's incredibly damp, a damp that creeps into you after just a few minutes."

Fritzl sat listening impassively on a suede-upholstered chair, wearing grey trousers and a black and white check jacket that was slightly too large for him.

Minutes earlier he had shuffled into room 119 of the St Pölten district court, flanked by six police officers and clutching tightly at a royal blue folder to shield his face from the clicking cameras.
The 73-year-old looked a shadow of his former self as he walked across the creaking oak floor.

Gone were his healthy suntan and the confident gait shown in video footage of him on holiday or in snapshots enjoying barbecues in the garden - while his daughter, and the offspring he fathered during years of sexual abuse, languished beneath his feet.

Fritzl refused to answer the questions fired at him by two Austrian reporters.
"If you had your chance again, would you do it all the same way?" one reporter asked, provoking nervous laughter from the public gallery. Fritzl kept his shield in place, although at times he was seen to apparently grin as his grey moustache twitched behind the folder. When he finally sat after cameras had been ordered from the court, he placed the file on the table in front of him and held his hands to the side of his head like blinkers instead.

The Guardian was one of only two British newspapers represented in the small courtroom as Burkheiser, for 25 minutes, laid out her emotional arguments, sometimes using a laser pointer to indicate masking tape she had stuck to the walls of the wood-panelled courtroom to illustrate the narrowness of entrances, the low heights of ceilings that Elisabeth and her children had had to endure.

The space constraints and the damp were, she said, minor compared with the other hardships and sufferings. For years Elisabeth had had no sink, no warm water, no daylight. She had "got her air from the cracks in the walls". Sometimes she went without light for days at a time - "no lamp, not even a torch or candles". And there were also the repeated rapes.

"But do you know what the worst thing was?" she asked the jury of four men and four women. "The uncertainty: when will he return, when will he turn on the electricity, when will he go again, what will happen if he doesn't return?" she said, reducing her voice to a whisper as if to maximise the impact of telling a scary bedtime tale.

She said they should not be fooled by Fritzl's polite demeanour, the image he projected of "a nice old man from next door". She said the trials of the cellar inhabitants were best encapsulated in a single paragraph, which she delivered in staccato fashion: "Light out. Rape. Light on. Mould. Rape. In front of the children. The uncertainty. Birth. Death. Rape."

She detailed the births over 12 years of Elisabeth's children, the three who stayed in the cellar and the three who were taken upstairs to live with their "grandparents" - Fritzl and his wife, Rosemarie. She also told of the birth in 1996 of a twin, Michael, who died after suffering from severe breathing difficulties, which she said would probably have been avoided had Fritzl sought medical help.

"That, ladies and gentlemen, is murder."

Then turning to Fritzl, who has admitted disposing of the body in an incinerator, she squinted her eyes and, reducing her voice to a sibilant whisper, said: "Herr Fritzl, your own flesh and blood. To treat it that way?" The accused moved his head slightly but did not appear to express any emotion.

Rudolf Mayer, Fritzl's lawyer and a veteran presence at Austria's more obscure criminal cases, urged the jury to take a less passionate view of his client.

"You need to keep emotion out of this," he said, arguing that it was wrong to call him a monster, as he has repeatedly been referred to in the media.

"A man who put so much effort into keeping two families cannot be called a monster," he said. "If I only want a daughter as a sex slave, I don't let her bring children into the world. You'd let them starve," he said.

In an indirect reference to the Belgian criminal Marc Dutroux, who kidnapped and murdered four girls in 1996, Mayer said the "Belgian case" was an example of monstrous behaviour, but it was unfair to put the label on Fritzl.

"When his eldest daughter was seriously ill, he put her in his Mercedes and took her to hospital," he said, referring to Kerstin, 19, whose hospitalisation last April caused suspicious police to close in and was the catalyst that brought Fritzl's underground empire crashing down.

The charges:

• Murder - maximum sentence of life imprisonment [Prosecutors say Fritzl is guilty of murder through neglect because he failed to seek help for a male baby twin, who died soon after he was born. Fritzl later incinerated the body]
• Enslavement - 20 years
• Rape - 15 years
• Deprivation of liberty - 10 years
• Coercion - five years
• Incest - one year

Fritzl on suicide watch as incest, rape and baby murder trial begins

Josef Fritzl, the Austrian engineer accused of imprisoning his daughter beneath his family home for more than two decades and fathering seven children with her goes on trial today amid tight security and huge media and public interest in a case said to be unprecedented in criminal history.

The 73-year-old will appear in the dock in St Pölten, around 40 miles east of the town of Amstetten, where he held his daughter Elisabeth, now 42, in a purpose-built dungeon.

When he is led into the courtroom at 9.30am, the press and public will get its first live glimpse of the robust pensioner who has admitted to leading a complex double life, providing for an "upstairs" and a "downstairs" family without his wife, neighbours or authorities ever becoming suspicious enough to question his activities.

On the second day of the trial an eight-member jury will hear videotaped evidence from Elisabeth detailing her 24-year ordeal. The 11 hours of evidence was recorded last July so she would not have to see her father in court again. Her brother, Harald, is also expected to give evidence.

Prison officials said last night that Fritzl was under an obligatory suicide watch in the final hours leading up to the trial. "We're taking no risks," said Günther Mörwald, head of the St Pölten prison where Fritzl has been held in custody since his arrest last April.

"He's under constant watch. We're aware of the possibility he might self-harm." A no-fly zone has also been established in the airspace over the courtroom to prevent media intrusion and escape attempts and even the locks of the court have been changed to avoid any security lapses.

Fritzl is expected to plead guilty to most of the charges he is facing, including rape, incest and abuse but will probably contest the charges of enslavement and murder, according to his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer.

Central to the trial will be the ­accusation that Fritzl murdered, through neglect, a baby twin called Michael born to his daughter in the cellar in 1996.

The boy had breathing difficulties and died when he was three days old. Prosecutors will argue that Fritzl could have saved his life if he had fetched medical help. Instead he died in his mother's arms and Fritzl disposed of the corpse in an incinerator in his backyard.

If convicted of murder, Fritzl faces a sentence of life imprisonment. If not, the maximum sentence he could expect to receive would be 15 years. According to legal experts he could potentially be out of prison in six and a half years, having already served a year in prison.

Neither the three children who were born and brought up with their mother in the cellar, nor the three who were taken upstairs to live with Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie, will give evidence.

They have been given protection with their mother for the duration of the trial in the nearby psychiatric clinic where they were treated in the days and months after they were freed.

Doctors and counsellors will be on hand in court to give any assistance to anyone who finds the evidence too ­harrowing. Four replacement jurors will also be available.

Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, has questioned if it was possible for Fritzl to have a fair trial, stating: "It seems like people just want to hang him by his ­testicles."

A verdict is expected on Friday.

Josef Fritzl shows no regret for years of abuse, says prosecutor
Jurors shown objects from "morbid" cellar where daughter was imprisoned

When Josef Fritzl walked across the creaking oak floorboards of the packed courtroom in St Pölten at 9:25am it was the first time the former electrical engineer had been seen in public since his arrest last April.

The 73-year-old did his best to evade the cameras waiting for him, shielding his face with a blue ringbinder containing his court papers and ignoring questions from waiting journalists.

"Will you receive a fair trial?" asked one. Fritzl declined to answer. But those who could see his moustachioed face said he was smiling behind the folder.

At 9:33am 12 jurors filed in. Eight of them will eventually return Friday's verdict — four are on standby, ready to step in should any juror feel unable to hear the harrowing details of the case, which will include 11 hours of pre-recorded video evidence from Elisabeth, the daughter Fritzl raped over the 24-year period in which he secretly imprisoned her underneath his home.

Addressing the jury, the state prosecutor, Christiane Burkheiser, said Fritzl might come across as "a nice old man", but she urged the jury to bear in mind that he had not shown any signs of regret since his arrest in April last year.

In response, Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, appealed to the jury to be objective. "Despite the way he has been described, try to see the accused as a human being," he said.

In her opening statement, Burkheiser described how Fritzl had imprisoned the then 18-year-old Elisabeth in August 1984 and subsequently raped her numerous times. The sexual abuse resulted in seven children, one of whom, a twin called Michael, died after birth. Prosecutors allege Fritzl is guilty of murder through neglect, for failing to seek medical attention for the seriously ill baby, who suffered breathing problems after birth.

Burkheiser told the jury: "That, ladies and gentlemen, is murder."

At this point, the prosecutor leaned towards Fritzl. In a whisper she said: "Mr Fritzl, your own flesh and blood, and to treat it that way." He moved his head slightly, but appeared unmoved.

The cellar in its original form, said Burkheiser, was the same size as the jury box, 11 metres squared. "I've seen the cellar prison twice," she told the jury. "It has a morbid atmosphere. It starts with having to crawl in on your knees and it's dark. It's really bad. It's unbelievably damp. A damp that creeps into you within minutes. It's mouldy."

She then passed the jurors a shoebox containing objects taken from the dank cellar. Each peered into the box, some crumpling their noses at the smell.

Elisabeth, the court heard, had no hot water. She couldn't wash her clothes. "There was not ever a torch. No candles. The electricity was often off for days," said Burkheiser. "It was his playground. He used her like a toy."

But the worst thing for Elisabeth, said Burkheiser, was the uncertainty. "When will he return? When will he turn on the electricity? When will he go again?"

Speaking to the jury, Burkheiser described how, in August 1988, Elisabeth bore her first child, Kirsten, in the cellar. In preparation, Fritzl had provided her with "disinfectant, a dirty pair of scissors and a book on child birth".

The jury then heard of how Fritzl decided that Elisabeth's third "cellar" child, Lisa, should come out of the cellar aged nine months, and go to live upstairs with him and his wife, Rosemarie.

After Elisabeth had given birth to another of his children, Fritzl once went to a phone box down the road and called his wife Rosemarie pretending to be Elisabeth, announcing she was going to leave the child with her, Rosemarie said.

When it was time for Fritzl to enter his pleas the judge, Andrea Hummer, read through the charge sheet. To the charge of incest, in a croaky voice, Fritzl said just one word: "Ja".

To coercion – specifically the accusation that he told Elisabeth and the children that they would be gassed or electrocuted were they to escape — Fritzl said "guilty".

He denied that last year he had told Elisabeth and the children that if they told anybody that they had been held and imprisoned, he would kill them.

But he admitted he was guilty of robbing the children of their freedom. To sexual abuse, he was "partly" guilty, he said. But of the central murder charge, he insisted, he was not guilty.

Fritzl in dock in Austria's trial of century
Kate Connolly in Berlin
The Observer, Saturday 14 March 2009

Austria is bracing itself for one of the most extraordinary trials in its history as Josef Fritzl, 74, steps into the dock tomorrow, accused of imprisoning his own daughter for 24 years in a catacomb under the family home and fathering her seven children.

He is expected to plead guilty to most of the charges in the courtroom in St Pölten, west of Vienna, but his lawyer will argue in mitigation that his initial intention was to protect his then 18-year-old from debauchery.

Fritzl is expected to contest the charge – one never before heard in an Austrian courtroom – that he enslaved his daughter Elisabeth. He will also reject the charge of murder. Prosecutors will argue that his failure to call for medical assistance in 1996, when a new-born baby twin named Michael fought for breath and turned blue, led to the boy's death. Fritzl has admitted to disposing of the corpse in an incinerator.

Authorities have enforced a 1km-radius no-fly zone around the courtroom and prison. "We fear that some media will try to fly over the courtroom to get pictures and the helicopter noise could disturb the proceedings. We also want to avoid possible breakouts from the prison," said the court's vice-president, Franz Cutkatold The Observer.

Of some 2,000 journalists and technicians expected for the trial, only 95 will find a place in the courtroom. Three places have been reserved for members of the public.

They will get the first in-the-flesh glimpse of Fritzl when he is brought into the courtroom at 9.30am tomorrow. On Tuesday, jurors will hear evidence from Elisabeth, now 43, via a huge TV screen. The evidence was recorded last year, to save her from having to face her father.

A verdict is expected on Friday. Austria's weekend press revealed yesterday in every last detail how Fritzl was preparing for the trial, including that his last pre-trial supper would consist of devilled cutlets, rice and cucumber salad. Prison head Colonel Gunther Mörwald was quoted as saying: "A fellow prisoner will be giving him a trim and a shave, as he was looking like he needed one before his big day."

Josef Fritzl pleads guilty to incest, imprisonment charges.

ST. POELTEN, Austria (CNN) -- Josef Fritzl, accused of imprisoning his daughter in a cellar for decades and fathering her seven children, pleaded guilty to incest, imprisonment and one charge of assault Monday at the opening of his trial in Austria.

He denied charges of murder and enslavement. When asked to enter a plea on a charge of rape, the 73-year-old replied: "Partly guilty."

Franz Cutka, a press spokesman for the Landesgericht St. Poelten court, said the "partly guilty" plea might mean that Fritzl contends he is not guilty of all the individual rape charges or that the violence used wasn't as severe as rape.

Cutka was not in court for the plea and does not speak for the defendant. Fritzl's attorney was not immediately available to explain what he meant.

The case first came to light in April 2008 when Elisabeth's daughter, Kerstin, became seriously ill with convulsions.

Elisabeth persuaded her father to allow Kerstin, then 19, to be taken to a hospital for treatment.
Hospital staff became suspicious of the case and alerted police, who discovered the family members in the cellar.

Fritzl confessed to police that he raped his daughter, kept her and their children in captivity and burned the body of the dead infant in an oven in the house. Elisabeth told police the infant was one of twins who died a few days after birth.

When Elisabeth gained her freedom, she told police her father began sexually abusing her at age 11. On August 8, 1984, she told police, her father enticed her into the basement, where he drugged her, put her in handcuffs and locked her in a room.

Fritzl explained Elisabeth's disappearance in 1984 by saying the girl, who was then 18, had run away from home. He backed up the story with letters he forced Elisabeth to write.

Elisabeth Fritzl and all but three of her children lived in the specially designed cellar beneath her father's home in Amstetten, Austria, west of Vienna. The other three children lived upstairs with Fritzl and his wife; Fritzl had left them on his own doorstep, pretending the missing Elisabeth had dropped them off.

Under Austrian law, if Fritzl is convicted on several offenses, he will be given the sentence linked to the worst crime. The charges he faces are:

• Murder: The infant who died in 1996 died from a lack of medical care, the state prosecutor said. The charge carries a sentence of life in prison.

• Involvement in slave trade: From 1984 until 2008, prosecutors allege, Fritzl held his daughter, Elisabeth, captive in a dungeon, abused her sexually and treated her as if she were his personal property -- in a situation similar to slavery. If he is convicted, the sentence could range from 10 to 20 years in prison.

• Rape: Between August 30, 1984, and June 30, 1989, Fritzl "regularly sexually abused Elisabeth," according to the prosecutor. The sentence could be from five to 15 years in prison.

• Incest: Parallel to the rape charge. It carries a sentence of up to one year.

• Withdrawal of liberty: Three of the children Fritzl had with Elisabeth were illegally held captive in a dungeon with no daylight or fresh air, according to prosecutors. That charge carries a sentence of one to 10 years.

• Assault: Between August 28, 1984, and April 26, 2006, Fritzl repeatedly threatened Elisabeth and their three children with gas and booby traps as warnings in case they tried to escape, authorities allege. The sentence would range from six months to five years.

Fritzl arrived at the courthouse in St. Poelten covering his face with a blue binder to shield himself from reporters, television cameras and photographers and escorted by a phalanx of police officers.

Fritzl faces six charges at a closed-door trial in St. Poelten, 45 miles (70 km) east of Amstetten, where Fritzl lived. Cameras were removed from the court.

The trial is scheduled to last five days, but his attorney Rudolph Mayer said it could be shorter.
Fritzl was charged in November with incest and the repeated rape of his daughter, Elisabeth, over a 24-year period.

But he was also charged with the murder of one of the children he fathered with her, an infant who died soon after birth. State Prosecutor Gerhard Sedlacek said Michael Fritzl died from lack of medical care.

In an opening statement, prosecuting attorney Christiane Burkheiser handed damp-smelling items from the cellar where Elisabeth and her children had lived to jurors to give them an idea of the conditions in which they were allegedly locked up.

In all, Fritzl is charged with: murder, involvement in slave trade (slavery), rape, incest, assault and deprivation of liberty, Sedlacek's office said. He could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of murder. Mayer said Sunday that Fritzl expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.

"This man obviously led a double life for 24 years. He had a wife and had seven kids with her. And then he had another family with his daughter, fathered another seven children with her," said Franz Polzer, a police officer in Amstetten, the town where Fritzl lived, at the time of his arrest.

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