Sensational Trial Begins in Austria Josef F. Pleads Guilty to Incest, Denies Murder

With shaking hands, Josef F. hid his face behind a folder as he faced justice and the world's assembled press at the start of his incest trial in St Pölten, Austria on Monday. The prosecutor said he had put his victims through "unimaginable martydrom." His lawyer denied that he was a "monster."

Josef F. denied the charge of murder but pled guilty or "partially guilty" to the charges of rape, incest, and incarceration at the start of his trial in the Austrian town of St Pölten on Monday.

The 73-year-old, accused of keeping his daughter locked in the cellar of his house for 24 years and fathering seven children with her, one of whom died shortly after its birth, hid his face behind a blue folder as he entered the courtroom packed with reporters from all over the world.

His hands were shaking and he didn't respond to the questions shouted at him by around 100 reporters in the courtoom. The accused man wore a gray suit and was flanked by six policemen.

He answered "not guilty" to the charges of murdering the baby that died and of enslaving his daughter, who is now 42. But he pleaded "partially guilty" to rape and guilty to the charge that he deprived the children of liberty. The plea of partial guilt implies that he disagrees with the wording of the charge.

A verdict is expected on Thursday or Friday. If he is found guilty by the jury he could be given a life sentence or 10-15 years in prison. His lawyer Rudolf Mayer said his client was not a "sex monster" but expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The prosecutor, Christiane Burkheiser, told the court that F.'s victims had gone through "unimaginable martyrdom."

Prosecutors said Fritzl was responsible for the death of a twin who died shortly after being born in the cellar in 1996. They said this was murder by neglect because Fritzl failed to seek help for the baby, whose body he burned in a furnace.

The trained electrical engineer had locked his daughter, 18 at the time, in the cellar of his house in Amstetten, about 120 kilometers west of Vienna, in August 1984.

He told his wife that she had run away to join a religious cult. What followed was a 24-year-ordeal of rape and incarceration in which his daughter bore him seven children. One died at birth, and F. brought three of the surviving six children upstairs to live normal lives, telling neighbors that his daughter had left them on the doorstep.

He gradually enlarged the cellar and equipped it with a bathroom, stove, fridge, TV and radio. F. told his daughter and her three children who remained in the cellar that they would be gassed if they tried to escape. They were released last April after one of the children suffered kidney failure and F. allowed her to be taken to hospital. The three children had never seen daylight.

'No One Can Imagine What Went on Down There'

For the first three years of the daughter's incarceration, she was held in a room of just 11 square meters, public prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser said. There was no heating, no shower and no warm water.

In the first nine years, the cellar had nothing but a wash basin, a bed and a heating plate. "No one can imagine what went on down there," said Burkheiser.

The prosecutor had the door to the court marked at a height of 1.74 meters and pointed out to the jury that this was the height of the cellar. She said she had visited the cellar twice, Austrian news agency APA reported.

"There was a morbid atmosphere. You have to crawl on your knees to enter the dungeon. The door is just 83 centimeters high. It is damp, mildewy, moldy. The dampness creeps into your back and into your bones," she said.

Josef F. raped his daughter on the second day of her captivity, the prosecutor said. She gave the jurors a box containing items from the cellar. "Smell these objects!" she said.

F. had shown no signs of remorse or a sense of guilt but had been cooperative, answering all her questions during the investigation, Burkheiser said. She said he had raped his daughter in front of the children.

Defense lawyer Rudolf Mayer said F. wasn't motivated by sexual desire but by a desire to have a second family. He said his client regretted his actions. "He is showing remorse for what he did to his victims as a result of his personality," said Mayer.

A medical report on F. found that he was severely psychologically disturbed. Mayer said it was likely that F. would be kept in a secure facility for abnormal criminals after he had served his sentence.

cro -- with wire reports


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