Daughter confronts Fritzl in video

Veronika Oleksyn
Tuesday 17 March 2009 17:00 GMT

The woman who bore seven children through incest and was allegedly locked in a squalid dungeon for 24 years confronted her father today in a videotape shown in court — testimony that could send him to prison for life.

Josef Fritzl, 73, has been charged with murder, kidnapping, incest and rape in a case that has drawn media attention from around the world for its shocking allegations.

Jurors, Fritzl and the rest of the court viewed videotaped testimony from his daughter Elisabeth, the key witness against Fritzl. Now 42, she was 18 when he allegedly imprisoned her in the cramped, windowless cell he built beneath the family's home in Amstetten.

Fritzl watched his daughter's testimony "very carefully and very attentively and provided answers to questions" by the prosecutor, jury and judge, court spokesman Franz Cutka told reporters after the closed-door session.

Those in court also saw videotaped testimony from Harald, one of Elisabeth's brothers, Cutka said.

Fritzl has pleaded guilty to incest with Elisabeth and false imprisonment, but is contesting negligent homicide and enslavement charges against him and has acknowledged only partial guilt on rape and coercion charges.

Fritzl has been charged with homicide in the death of an infant — a male twin 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.

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.

Fritzl could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of homicide. He faces up to 20 years behind bars if found guilty of enslavement, up to 15 for a rape conviction, and one year for an incest conviction.

Fritzl again hid his face behind a blue binder and stayed silent Tuesday as he was led into the court in St Poelten, west of Vienna, for the second day of his trial. But his face was photographed after a later break.

Reporters were not allowed into the courtroom today, but Cutka said they would be let in for part of tomorrow's session. He said the jury was expected to start its deliberations on Thursday morning and a verdict could come as early as Thursday afternoon.

In her opening statement yestreday, prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser said Fritzl refused to speak to his daughter during the first few years of her ordeal, coming downstairs only to rape her. Burkheiser said the rapes sometimes occurred in front of the children, and she described Elisabeth as a "broken" woman.

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.

Elisabeth and her six surviving children, who range in age from six 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 did expect any surprises at the trial.

"The facts are relatively clear ... there can't really be any surprises in a situation that has already been cleared up," Mayer said.

Cutka said a psychiatrist has been caring for Fritzl before and during the trial to ensure he does not attempt suicide.

Erich Huber-Guensthofer, deputy head of the St Poelten prison, told reporters that Fritzl had a mysterious visitor to his jail cell earlier this month who apparently posed as a real estate agent. He said the visit was cut short after officials realised the man was trying to pursue "very personal" business with Fritzl.

He did not elaborate, and it was unclear whether Fritzl had been in any danger.

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.

Austrian media ridiculed Fritzl today for hiding his face in court when the trial began.

"Now he's ashamed — 25 years too late," the Heute newspaper said in a front page headline over a photo of Fritzl trying to shield himself from news cameras.

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