After locking up, raping daughter, father faces life sentence

March 15th, 2009 - 9:12 am ICT by IANS  

By Albert Otti
Vienna, March 15 (DPA) The trial of Josef Fritzl starting Monday in the town of Sankt Poelten will see the Austrian who imprisoned and abused his daughter in a dungeon for 24 years facing the rest of his days behind bars.

Around one year after it became public that Fritzl had fathered seven of his daughter’s children, the 73-year-old stands not only accused of enslavement, rape, imprisonment, coercion and incest but also of murder.

He allegedly failed to provide medical care to one of the children that died shortly after birth. Fritzl burned the baby’s body in an oven in the cellar.

Fritzl’s lawyer Rudolf Mayer has made it clear that he expected his client to spend his remaining days in prison, whether or not he is convicted of murder, which carries a possible life sentence.

The prosecution has demanded that the defendant be locked up in a prison for mentally abnormal felons.

While Fritzl told a court-appointed psychiatrist last year that he was “born to rape”, his lawyer said recently that the man loved his victims “in his own way” and was “no sex monster”.

The jury in Sankt Poelten, a town one hour’s drive west of Vienna, will have a week to make up its own mind, as they watch videotaped testimony by his 42-year-old daughter Elisabeth. A verdict is expected as early as March 20.

The 100 accredited reporters will not be allowed to view the testimony, in which Elisabeth is expected to talk about her ordeal, which began when her father started raping her at the age of 11.

In 1984, when his daughter was 18, Fritzl lured her into the cellar under his home in Amstetten, where he drugged and chained her.

Elisabeth did not see the light of day for the next 24 years, living in a windowless dungeon that was only 1.7 metres high, measured 60 square metres and was locked with a door made from reinforced concrete.

Meanwhile, Fritzl led a double life. In his hometown of Amstetten, some 130 km to the west of Vienna, he was known as a landlord who owned several houses.

Downstairs, he raped his daughter several thousand times and threatened to kill her should she try to escape.

In the end, it was the children that Elisabeth bore in captivity between 1988 and 2002 that proved to be Fritzl’s undoing.

For a long time, he made his wife believe that Elisabeth was a runaway. He managed to take three of the children to live upstairs, pretending that his daughter had left them at his doorstep. Fritzl even made Elisabeth write letters to make his ploy more credible.

But when Elisabeth’s eldest daughter Kerstin fell dangerously ill and was brought to a hospital by Fritzl last April, she set into motion a series of events that brought Elisabeth and her two still imprisoned children freedom.

In her dungeon, Elisabeth saw an appeal by authorities on television, calling on her to step forward in order to help the doctors treat Kerstin. At that time, authorities still believed Elisabeth had abandoned her children.

When Elisabeth convinced Fritzl to take her and her children to visit Kerstin, he was arrested by police.

In the past year, Elisabeth Fritzl and her family have started building a new life in an undisclosed Austrian town, aided by psychological experts and social workers.

Whether they can ever lead a normal life will depend not least on the public. While no one noticed Elisabeth’s plight for 24 years, tabloid media have recently published pictures of her and her family.

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