Their eyes met in court – and Fritzl finally cracked

Daughter's court appearance persuaded killer to make full confession, says lawyer, as judge sentences him to life term to be served in top-security mental hospital
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The Independent Online

It was a moment of high drama that put Josef Fritzl behind bars for the rest of his life: he turned and looked into the eyes of the daughter he had imprisoned and raped thousands of times over 24 years, then broke down and wept. It was all over.

The sensational developments that led to Fritzl's full confession, and to his being sentenced to life imprisonment in a top-security mental hospital, were spelled out during the final moments of his trial in Austria yesterday.

His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, revealed that Elisabeth, the 42- year-old daughter who was kept as Fritzl's personal sex slave in the cellar beneath his home, was smuggled into a closed court on Tuesday as jurors watched a harrowing 11-hour videotape of her testimony.

"Fritzl was moved to tears after he saw the videotape. Then he turned round and saw his daughter for real," Mr Mayer said. "Their eyes met. It was all over for Josef Fritzl at that point."

Emotionally crushed by the weight of Elisabeth's evidence, and by the first sight of her since she was freed last year, Fritzl made a full confession to the court on Wednesday. He admitted murdering one of the seven children born from his incestuous relationship, and to enslaving his daughter. Mr Mayer said: "After he saw the video, after he had seen what she was saying and how she was, he was able to see her point of view for the first time." He added: "When my client was confronted with this you could see him break down. He accepted Elisabeth's version. He was shattered and broken inside."

Yesterday, Fritzl told judges he was "shocked" by the video. Distraught with remorse, he added: "I regret what I did to my family from the bottom of my heart, and I know that I cannot make amends for it. I can only try and find opportunities to limit the damage that has been done."

The 73-year-old was told he would spend the rest of his life behind bars after a jury found him guilty of murder, incest, false imprisonment, coercion and enslavement. As the presiding judge, Andrea Humer, and two other robed judges donned black caps to hand down the sentence, Fritzl stood and showed no emotion.

His crimes are without parallel in Austrian legal history. He kidnapped his daughter when she was 18, drugged her and locked her in a dank, purpose-built, windowless dungeon beneath his home in Amstetten, Lower Austria.

Over the next 24 years, she was raped an estimated 3,000 times. Fritzl fathered seven children by Elisabeth, all born below ground. Judge Humer told Fritzl he deserved to be "very severely punished", adding: "This is why you are being sentenced to lifelong imprisonment in an institution for those who are aware that they have done wrong but who suffer from a personality disorder."

Fritzl who was then ordered to sit down, sat upright in his chair and told the judge in a barely audible voice: "I accept the verdict."

The judge told him he had a right of appeal against his sentence, but Fritzl replied "I shall not attempt this" and was then marched out by guards.

Jurors decided Fritzl was guilty of murdering his and Elisabeth's son Michael Fritzl, one of twins, who was born without medical assistance in the cellar in April 1996. The baby suffered from obvious breathing difficulties and his limbs eventually became stiff and started to turn blue. The child died just 66 hours after his birth. Fritzl made no effort to call a doctor and simply told Elisabeth: "What will be, will be."

He then burned the infant's corpse in his central heating furnace. The foreman of the jury told the court Fritzl's complete failure to act made him guilty of "homicide by neglect". Fritzl is also the first man in Austria to be convicted of the offence of enslavement. He will spend the next three weeks in jail near the court at Sankt Pölten before being sent to a high-security institution. Legal experts said Fritzl could, in theory, be paroled after 14 years if psychiatrists decided he has recovered. However, they admitted that such a prospect for a 73-year-old patient was highly unlikely.

During Fritzl's trial, the court was provided with a stark and disturbing psychological profile of the rapist described as Austria's "incest monster". He was raised by a brutal single mother who beat and neglected him and left him alone for long periods. Dr Adelheid Kastner, a psychiatrist who assessed Fritzl before the trial, said his early life in his family home was "characterised by constant fear".

Fritzl developed a technique for dealing with this fear, which was to suppress his emotions and push them down into the "cellar of his soul", the doctor explained. His suppressed feelings and failed relationship with his mother made him want to compensate by controlling someone completely. "He wanted somebody who belonged only to him – somebody who could not be taken from him and whom he had no fear of losing," Dr Kastner said.

His crimes shocked the world when they emerged in April last year following his arrest. Fritzl was caught after another of his children born in the cellar, 18-year-old Kerstin, became seriously ill and began having fits while in captivity. Elisabeth eventually persuaded her father to take Kerstin to hospital, and doctors alerted police.

Speaking outside the court, Mr Mayer said: "I would say the verdict was a logical consequence of a confession. Of course, if you have 3,000 cases of rape and 24 years of being kept in a cellar, it is evident there can only be a punishment or verdict like this one."

Fritzl's future: A secure unit for sex offenders

Josef Fritzl is to begin his life sentence behind bars in a secure mental institution for sex offenders in Vienna where he will be allowed a computer, television and newspapers while he undergoes a lengthy assessment by leading criminal psychiatrists. The Mittersteig prison hospital has 90 inmates, mostly serious sex offenders. Fritzl is to spend the first six months there while doctors decide where he spends the rest of his sentence.

Mittersteig is the favoured option as its chief psychiatrist Patrick Frottier knows Frtizl and has treated him since his arrest. Fritzl could be eventually transferred to the Göllersdorf unit outside Vienna – Austria's equivalent of Broadmoor.

Wherever he goes, Fritzl will be expected to accept treatment for his abnormal personality disorder, but doctors say it will be impossible to cure him because of his age. Psychiatrists and criminal specialists have ruled out any suggestion that Fritzl should be sent to Austria's main prisons for long-term offenders because of the risk that, as a rapist and incest offender, he would be killed by inmates.

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