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Austria's Fritzl admits murder and enslavement
Wed Mar 18, 2009 10:19am EDT
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By Sylvia Westall
ST POELTEN, Austria (Reuters) - Josef Fritzl, who fathered seven children with a daughter he imprisoned and raped in a cellar for 24 years, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to enslavement and murder, reversing his denial of the charges.
The 73-year-old Austrian, who now faces life in prison, told the court he decided he was culpable 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 purpose-built, soundproofed cellar under his small-town home.
His turnabout also altered his plea from "partial" to full guilt on the charge of rape. Fritzl had earlier admitted incest but denied murder and enslavement, the two gravest charges, at Monday's outset of the trial in St Poelten, west of Vienna.
Defense lawyer Rudolf Mayer told reporters he was "completely surprised" by Fritzl's plea change but said his client may have been moved by Elisabeth's detailed statement.
The trial was expected to be completed on Thursday, with sentencing the same day. The retired engineer faces life behind bars for the murder of the baby son, a twin, who died shortly after being born in the cellar in 1996.
ILL INFANT NEGLECTED
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 their 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.
Entering court on Wednesday, Fritzl did not hide his face behind a blue file folder, unlike on the previous two days, and again wore a mismatched, rumpled grey suit.
Fritzl kept his eyes downcast or gazed straight ahead during the proceeding, as if disregarding what was going on around him. He has consulted regularly with a psychiatrist during the trial.
Austrian daily Kurier reported Elisabeth had attended the trial unnoticed on Tuesday, when the media was barred from proceedings. Mayer declined to 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," providing them with schoolbooks, toys and even a Christmas tree. But Mayer also described Fritzl's crimes as "monstrous."
His 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. Continued...
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