A drained and ashen-faced Josef Fritzl broke down in court yesterday and fully confessed to all his crimes including murdering his baby son and treating his daughter Elisabeth as a personal sex slave. Showing remorse for what he had done for the first time, he said his daughter's videotaped testimony had made him realise "how cruel I was".
His lawyer described Fritzl as being "emotionally destroyed" after Elisabeth's account of how he raped her thousands of times while holding her prisoner in a windowless and, at times, rat-infested cellar beneath his home for nearly a quarter of a century.
The courtroom admission came amid reports that Elisabeth, now 42, had appeared in the chamber in person to witness her father's reaction to the 11 hours of her videotaped testimony when it was played on Tuesday.
Fritzl had already confessed to charges of rape, incest, wrongful imprisonment and coercion at the start of his trial but had denied enslaving his own daughter and of murdering one of the seven children he fathered with her. His admission made it almost certain he would be jailed for life when he is sentenced today.
The 73-year-old former electrical engineer sat slumped in a chair on the third day of his trial at a provincial court in Sankt Pölten. He looked exhausted and made no attempt to hide his face with the blue ring binder as he had done during the first two days of the proceedings.
Andrea Humer, the presiding judge, asked the defendant whether he had any comment to make after watching his daughter's testimony the previous day. "Yes," Fritzl said in a shaking, barely audible voice. "I declare myself guilty to all the charges against me."
The judge then asked him what had changed his mind. "The video evidence of my daughter Elisabeth," he said. "It was only yesterday that I realised how cruel I was to Elisabeth. I am sorry."
Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said that after seeing his daughter's evidence, he had immediately asked to see the psychiatrist appointed to monitor his mental health during the trial.
It was also reported yesterday that Elisabeth had been in the court while it was closed to the public for the airing of her videotaped evidence on Tuesday. She was accompanied by two of her father's other victims, also thought to have been his children. "It was her evidence that broke the camel's back so to speak," said Mr Mayer.
Fritzl was questioned about the death of his baby son Michael, who was born out of his incestuous relationship with Elisabeth in 1996 but survived for only 66 hours. The court heard how the baby was born with obvious breathing difficulties but Fritzl made no attempt to get a doctor and allowed the child to die. He later burned the corpse in a central heating furnace saying, "What will be, will be". "I don't know why I didn't help, "Fritzl told the court, admitting that his failure to act was murderous. "I just overlooked it. We thought the little one would pull through."
Fritzl kidnapped and drugged Elisabeth in 1984, when she was 18 and kept her incarcerated in a cellar beneath his home in the Austrian town of Amstetten for 24 years. He is estimated to have raped her 3,000 times. During that time, he fathered seven children through the incestuous relationship. His crimes only came to light last April when one of their daughters became seriously ill and Fritzl was persuaded to take her to hospital. Doctors alerted the police.
Yesterday, Dr Adelheid Kastner, the psychiatrist who had assessed Fritzl following his arrest, drew a disturbing psychological profile of the rapist who has been dubbed Austria's "Incest Monster". She said Fritzl's mother had feared she was infertile and had simply sought out a man to have sex with to prove that she could have children. Fritzl's only value to her was as proof that she was not barren. Fritzl, she said, grew up in a home ruled by fear. His mother used to beat him regularly. Aged seven, during the Second World War, he was sent down to the cellar of their home alone during air raids and was terrified he would go back up to find his mother dead.
Dr Kastner said Fritzl developed a technique for dealing with his constant fear by pushing his emotions into the "cellar of his soul". His suppressed feelings and his failed relationship with his mother made him want to compensate by controlling somebody completely. "He wanted somebody who only belonged to him, somebody who could not be taken from him and whom he had no fear of losing," she said.
Dr Kastner said Fritzl had told her: "As soon as I left the cellar it was gone from my mind." But, she added: "When he went to bed and when he woke up, he felt bad because he knew he was breaking every rule in the book."
Mystery of Elisabeth: Was she in court?
Austria was swamped with conflicting reports about whether Elisabeth Fritzl appeared in a closed court in person on Tuesday to witness her father's reaction to a videotaped interview played to jurors in which she gave an account of her ordeal.
Court officials refused to confirm or deny claims she had appeared but intimated that she had been present on Tuesday by insisting she had definitely not been in court yesterday.
Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, adopted similar tactics by refusing to confirm or deny her presence, saying "I am not the right person to ask". However he later confirmed that three important victims of Fritzl had been in court yesterday. As a condition of the trial, the judicial authorities have banned all media coverage concerning the whereabouts of Josef Fritzl's victims to ensure they remained protected. That said, it can be assumed that she was in court – together with her brother Harald and another brother or sister.
"There are worse things a human can do to another human than murder"