Josef Fritzl was sentenced to life in a psychiatric institution on Thursday for locking up and raping his daughter over 24 years, fathering seven children with her, and causing the death of an infant son.
”I accept the verdict,” the 73-year-old Austrian told the court after the unanimous decision by the three-man, five-woman jury in St Poelten, west of Vienna. The prosecution also approved it, meaning the trial outcome cannot be appealed.
Court officials said Fritzl would return to St Poelten jail for the time being pending transfer to an institution for mentally ill offenders where he could get therapy.
They said his condition would be re-evaluated in 15 years and, in theory, if he were deemed cured, he could be released. But both Fritzl and his lawyer has said they expected he would have to spend the rest of his life incarcerated.
Fritzl had pleaded guilty in the four-day trial to incest, rape, enslavement, coercion and murder, by neglect for confining his daughter, now 42, in a purpose-built, windowless cellar under his home for almost a quarter century.
”I cannot do anything more about [what happened] … I regret this from the bottom of my heart,” Fritzl said in his closing statement at his four-day trial.
He initially denied the murder and slavery counts but reversed his plea after watching 11 hours of videotaped testimony from daughter Elisabeth screened in court on Tuesday.
The retired engineer was convicted of murder, the most serious charge, because the jury found he did nothing over a 66-hour period to seek medical help despite knowing the boy was in danger of dying from breathing problems.
Elisabeth’s lawyer said Fritzl’s remarks did not seem serious, suggesting he was only seeking a milder sentence.
Defence lawyer Rudolf Mayer confirmed reports Elisabeth had attended the trial on Tuesday and said Fritzl was ”devastated” when he spotted her in the gallery as the video was screened.
Mayer said he had nothing to do with the plea change.
In her closing argument, chief prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser said Fritzl had degraded Elisabeth to ”a condition of total dependence and treated her like his property”.
She said Fritzl committed murder because he had 66 hours to seek medical care for the infant son, whose breathing problems were caused in part by his umbilical cord getting tangled around his neck, but did nothing and consciously let the boy die.
”He not only saw but listened to the death struggle of the infant — for 66 hours,” Burkheiser said.
Mayer argued that Elisabeth did not describe the newborn’s fight for life in the journal she kept in the cellar.
Burkheiser also said Fritzl had demonstrated ”unbelievable manipulation skills”, for example by luring his daughter into the cellar by pretending he needed help carrying a door.
”Do not let yourselves be deceived as Elisabeth was 24 years ago,” Burkheiser said, referring to Wednesday’s confession.
Eva Plaz, Elisabeth’s lawyer, said Fritzl’s guilty plea should not be taken as a sign of remorse.
”Nobody knows the accused as well as my client [Elisabeth]. I can say what you heard yesterday was no confession. Why did he only yesterday change his mind?” she said.
His expression grim, Fritzl entered the final court session on Thursday ringed by a dozen policemen. He was wearing the same rumpled grey suit with a blue shirt and tie.
Prosecutors said the children held captive had never seen daylight and had to watch Fritzl repeatedly rape their mother.
”The basic need was for power. It is about domination, about power, about control,” psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner testified.
Fritzl’s abuses came to light last April when he took the eldest child to hospital after she became seriously ill.
Elisabeth and her six children, aged five to 19 at their discovery, and 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. – Reuters