An Austrian who fathered seven children with a daughter he locked in a cellar for 24 years pleaded guilty on Wednesday to enslavement and murder, reversing his denial of the charges.
Josef Fritzl (73) told the court that he changed his mind after watching his daughter Elisabeth give 11 hours of videotaped testimony about her ordeal at a closed-door hearing on Tuesday.
”I plead guilty to [all] the charges in the indictment,” he said, including murder of a newborn son, through neglect, in the windowless, purpose-built cellar under his small-town home.
His turnabout also altered his plea from ”partial” to full guilt on the charge of rape. Fritzl had denied murder and enslavement, the two gravest charges, at Monday’s outset of the trial in St Poelten, a provincial capital west of Vienna.
The trial was expected to be completed on Thursday, with sentencing the same day. The retired engineer faces life in prison for murdering the baby son, a twin, who died shortly after being born in the cellar in 1996.
Responding to questions from Judge Andrea Humer, Fritzl said he should have taken seriously the fact that the infant was breathing poorly and tried to get the boy to a hospital quickly.
”I was hoping the little one would survive but I should have done something. I don’t know why I didn’t help. I just lost sight [of the issue],” he said.
Prosecutors said Fritzl repeatedly raped his daughter before the eyes of the children, trapped under his house in the small central town of Amstetten, using her as if she were his own property. The captive children had never seen daylight.
Fritzl entered the courtroom on Wednesday with his face uncovered, unlike the previous two days, shielded by 10 police officers and again wearing a mismatched, rumpled grey suit with a blue shirt. Cameras were not permitted to film this time.
Austrian daily Kurier reported Elisabeth was physically present but unnoticed in the courtroom on Tuesday. Fritzl lawyer Rudolf Mayer declined comment but said there were people in the viewing gallery whom he did not identify.
Mayer testified earlier that his client cared for the daughter and children he incarcerated ”like a second family”, despite describing his actions as ”monstrous”.
Fritzl’s abuses came to light last April when he took 19-year-old Kerstin, the eldest child born below ground, to hospital after she became seriously ill.
Elisabeth and her six children, three of whom were incarcerated from birth, are now living in an undisclosed location under new identities.
Three of the children were raised above ground by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie after he told people that Elisabeth had abandoned them and joined a sect. Police say Rosemarie had no knowledge of her husband’s actions. – Reuters