‘Mentally sound’ Fritzl admits murder, slavery (Second Lead)

March 18th, 2009 - 6:56 pm ICT by IANS  

St Poelten (Austria), March 18 (DPA) Josef Fritzl, the Austrian father on trial for imprisoning and raping his daughter Elisabeth for 24 years in the cellar of his home, pleaded guilty Wednesday to all the charges brought against him, including murder and slavery.
The 73-year-old, who had already confessed to incest, false imprisonment and rape, unexpectedly overturned his previous “not guilty” plea to the charge of murder through negligence.

Fritzl told the court Wednesday that he was responsible for the death of a baby his daughter Elisabeth had given birth to, fathered by him, in the dungeon where he kept her.

Baby Michael, one of two twins, had been ill at birth in 1996 and survived 66 hours.

Fritzl told the court he had not wilfully allowed the baby to die, but had misjudged the health of the infant.

The Austrian also admitted that the conditions under which he held his daughter, in a cramped windowless dungeon below his home, amounted to slavery.

It was the video testimony of his daughter, Fritzl told the court, which led him to confess that he was guilty of murder and slavery, charges he had previously denied.

Media speculations that Elisabeth was present in the courtroom during Wednesday’s hearing were not refuted by the court’s spokesman, nor by defence lawyer Rudolf Mayer.

“If she was in the courtroom, that could help explain his change of heart,” Mayer said of Fritzl’s decision to confess to all charges. The defence lawyer said he was taken by surprise when Fritzl overturned his “not guilty” plea.

The charge of murder carries a lifelong prison sentence, while slavery - a charge pressed for the first time in Austria - carries 20 years.

On the third day in the trial, a forensic psychiatrist told the court she deemed Fritzl to be fully accountable for his deeds.

Expert witness Adelheid Kastner said Fritzl had displayed no sign of mental disorder, and she considered him to be fully accountable for the deeds he had committed over the 24-year period.

“Fritzl suffers none of the mental illnesses that would rule out his accountability,” the forensic psychologist said.

Kastner further recommended that, in light of his severe personality disorders and his tendency to violence, Fritzl should be admitted indefinitely to a facility for abnormal offenders at the end of his sentence.

She said it was not foreseeable what period of psychiatric treatment would be necessary for him to no longer present a danger to his family.

After Tuesday’s closed hearings, when the details of the trial would have violated the victims’ right to privacy, the court proceedings were reopened to the public Wednesday.

For the first time since the start of the trial, Fritzl could be seen entering the court without the blue document folder he had been using to shield his face.

The hearings ended Wednesday morning when the judges retired to discuss a series of points for the jury to consider before passing judgement.

The prosecution and defence are due to give their closing addresses to the jury Thursday.

A final verdict on the trial, helped along by Fritzl’s guilty plea, is expected the same day.

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