Fritzl Pleads Guilty to All Charges in Incest Case
ST. POELTEN, Austria — In a stunning turn of events, an Austrian on trial for imprisoning his daughter for 24 years and fathering her seven children pleaded guilty Wednesday to all charges against him — including negligent homicide — after hearing his daughter's heart-wrenching testimony.
In a change of heart, Josef Fritzl calmly acknowledged his guilt on the third day of a trial that has drawn media attention from around the world for its shocking allegations.
"I declare myself guilty to the charges in the indictment," Fritzl, 73, told a panel of judges, referring at one point to what he called "my sick behavior."
Fritzl faces up to life imprisonment on the negligent homicide count, which he initially had contested along with an enslavement charge. Prosecutors also had charged him with rape, incest, forced imprisonment and coercion.
Psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner, meanwhile, told the court Wednesday that Fritzl had a very serious personality disorder and would pose a threat to others even at his advanced age if freed. She recommended that Fritzl serve out his sentence in a psychiatric ward.
Asked by the presiding judge what had led him to change his mind, Fritzl said it was the videotaped testimony from his daughter Elisabeth. Fritzl, jurors and the rest of the court had viewed 11 hours of her testimony during closed-door sessions Monday and Tuesday.
Officials would not confirm an Austrian media report that Elisabeth was in the courtroom on Tuesday.
Elisabeth was the prosecution's key witness against Fritzl. Now 42, she was 18 when he imprisoned her in the cramped, windowless cell he built beneath the family's home in the town of Amstetten.
The negligent homicide charge came for the death of an infant twin boy — Michael — born to Elisabeth in April 1996 who prosecutors say might have survived with proper medical care had he and his mother not been locked in the basement.
Fritzl expressed regret that he didn't bring the ailing infant out of the dungeon and get medical help.
"I don't know why I didn't help," Fritzl said. "I just overlooked it. I thought the little one would survive."
"I should have recognized that the baby was doing poorly," he added.
Wearing a mismatched gray suit and a blue shirt, Fritzl did not hide his face behind a binder Wednesday as he had done for the last two days when led into the courtroom in St. Poelten, west of Vienna.
After the plea change and the psychiatrist's testimony, officials adjourned the trial until Thursday morning.
Legal experts say the jury will still have to deliver a verdict despite Fritzl's guilty pleas, although his confessions are grounds for a lesser sentence. The verdict and sentence for Fritzl are expected Thursday after the prosecution and the defense give their closing statements.
Police say DNA tests prove Fritzl is the biological father of all six of Elisabeth's surviving children, three of whom never saw daylight until the crime came to light 11 months ago.
Three of the children grew up underground in Amstetten and the other three were brought upstairs to be raised by Fritzl and his wife, Rosemarie, who apparently believed they had been abandoned.
Prosecutors have alleged that Fritzl refused to speak to his daughter during the first few years of her ordeal, coming downstairs only to rape her. They said the rapes sometimes occurred in front of the children, and described Elisabeth as a "broken" woman.
Elisabeth and her six surviving children, who range in age from 6 to 20, have spent months recovering from their ordeal in a psychiatric clinic and at a secret location.
Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said he had not been aware of Fritzl's change of heart before Wednesday's session.
"He didn't discuss it with me," Mayer said, adding that Fritzl asked to see a psychiatrist after Tuesday's session. "It must really have shaken him up."
Mayer declined to confirm an Austrian newspaper report that Elisabeth was in the courtroom Tuesday, but said if one of Fritzl's victims had been present, it would have had a major impact on his client.
Court spokesman Franz Cutka neither confirmed nor denied Elisabeth's presence.
Kastner, the psychiatrist who met with Fritzl several times and put together a psychological profile for the court, said the Austrian had a deep need to control people. She said Fritzl had an ability to block out his crimes but knew what he was doing was wrong, acknowledging he had a guilty conscience when he went to bed at night and when he woke up in the morning.
"Fritzl is guilty for what he did," she said.
She said the large number of children Fritzl fathered only strengthened the control he had over his victim. "The more children, the more power," Kastner said. "This is about possession ... power ... control."
Fritzl had testified earlier this week that he had a difficult childhood and a bad relationship with his mother.
"The climate in his parent's house was marked by fear," Kastner said.
The Associated Press normally withholds the names of victims of sexual assault. In this case, the withholding of Elisabeth's name by the AP became impractical when her name and her father's were announced publicly by police and details about them became the subject of publicity both in their home country and around the world.
Police arrest 'Italian Fritzl who taught son to rape'
In a case that has shocked Italy and drawn comparison with Josef Fritzl in Austria, Italian police have arrested a 64-year-old Turin man for allegedly sexually abusing his daughter over 25 years and encouraging his son to follow his example.
The 41-year-old son is also behind bars, accused of abusing not only his sister, now 34, but his own young daughters, aged 6, 8, 12 and 20.
“It seems that in this family there was a sort of droit de seigneur of the father over the daughter,” Pietro Forno, the Turin prosecutor, said. The two men deny the charges.
Italian newspapers identified the father as Michele Mongelli, and his son as Giuseppe. The 34-year-old daughter was identified with the pseudonym Laura. Police said that the 64-year-old man’s daughters and granddaughters had been kept in “conditions of slavery and mistreatment”, with Laura often locked up in the dark in her bedroom.
However Mr Forno said Laura was “strictly speaking free, though she did nothing without her father, who completely dominated her psychologically". He said Laura was the eldest of nine children, and “according to a family rule, the eldest daughter was reserved” for the father.
"The young woman is suffering from personality disorders because of the prolonged incestuous situation and mistreatment,” he said. "A psychiatric evaluation has determined that the situation was one of very serious distress." He said Laura had a “totally passive personality before her father, who made her live in a climate of threats,”.
She complained to the authorities of sexual abuse as early as 1994, when she was 19, but her complaint had been judged “unreliable” on the ground that she was “disturbed”. “It appeared to be a normal family,” Mr Forno said.
The man and his son, both street traders dealing in scrap metal who moved to Turin from Apulia in southern Italy, are accused of rape, incest and obscene acts in public because some of the alleged sexual abuse took place in a car. Reports said Laura was forced to leave school in her early teens.
“This is a terrible story of sexual violence, perversion, humiliation, abuse and tyranny in a Turin family,” reported La Repubblica. “It is a story just like that of the monster Josef Fritzl.” It said the abuse had come to light because of police telephone taps “but everyone knew about it in the family”.
The 34-year-old woman and her four nieces have all been taken into care and are being given psychiatric help, police said. “This is not an easy story to tell,” Mr Forno said. “It took us a while to find out what was really going on behind those domestic walls.”
He said that the inquiry began in October last year, when Laura went to the police to denounce not her father but her brother, telling them that he had raped her twice and forced her to stay at home for two weeks. She was accompanied to the police station by her father and mother. During the investigation it was alleged that her father had been raping Laura since she was 9, and had held her “as his slave”. She had only been allowed to go out accompanied by her parents, and although she had been withdrawn from her school, the educational authorities had failed to find out why.
Police said that telephone interceptions and bugs in the house showed that the 8-year-old girl had been told: “Get into bed, if you’re asleep you won’t feel a f***ing thing.”
Antonio Genovese, the lawyer for the father, said that he had asked for the man to be released on the grounds that he had diabetes and difficulty walking. Antonio Foti, the lawyer for the son, said that he had asked for “Laura” to be given a psychiatric examination. “I am sure of my client’s innocence,” he said.
Mr Foti said it was “possible” that both the father and the son had used “vulgar and threatening language” towards the women in the family, but “there is a very great difference between verbal and physical abuse”.
Josef Fritzl, a 73-year-old Austrian, was sentenced to life this month for locking up and raping his daughter in a cellar over 24 years, fathering seven children with her and causing the death of his own infant son.
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