Josef Fritzl, the 74-year-old Austrian man who kept his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathered 7 children with her, has pled guilty to incest but denies murdering his infant son.
Today, Mr. Fritzl's first day in court, the abuser held up a blue folder to hide his face and spoke only to confirm his name. He pleaded "partially" guilty to rape because he doesn't agree with how the charge is worded, and fully guilty of depriving his children of their liberty, reports Reuters. He pled innocent to charges that he enslaved his daughter Elisabeth since the age of 18 and to murdering their infant son in 1996. Prosecutors say he is guilty of murder by negligence for not taking their son to the hospital when he developed breathing problems. Fritzl is accused of burning the three day old baby's body in the furnace.
In her opening statement, prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser said, "Josef Fritzl treated his daughter as his property, he made her completely dependent," according to the BBC. She added that Fritzl, "showed no sign of regret or any consciousness of wrongdoing."
Fritzl's daughter Elisabeth, now 42, and her six surviving children, are now living in a secret location with new identities and will not testify in person. The Times of London reports that 11 hours of Elisabeth's videotaped testimony will be shown to the eight jurors in the coming days. According to excerpts, Elisabeth says that she was initially chained to an iron pole behind her bed and couldn't get to the bathroom in the cramped windowless dungeon Fritzl built under the family's home. He is accused of raping his daughter on average three times a week since imprisoning her in the basement.
Of the six surviving children she gave birth to while underground, three were kept underground their entire lives, and three were taken upstairs and raised by Fritzl and his wife. According to CNN, Fritzl explained his daughter's disappearance in 1984 by saying she ran away from home and forcing her to write letters to back up his story. The then said she left three of her children on his doorstep throughout the years. His wife Rosemarie supposedly didn't know what was going on in her basement.
Police discovered the dungeon last April when 19-year-old Kerstin, one of the children in the cellar, got sick and Elisabeth persuaded her father to take her to the hospital. Elisabeth now lives with her youngest child, 6, and is in contact with her other children. The two older children from the basement, who are 19 and 20, are still receiving therapy. They never left the basement or saw sunlight and as a result have a stoop, restricted spatial awareness, rotting teeth and gums, skin problems, weak immunity and difficulty communicating.
Officials at St. Pölten prison where Fritzl is being held say he on suicide watch, according to The Guardian. "He's under constant watch. We're aware of the possibility he might self-harm," said Günther Mörwald, head of the prison. A verdict is expected on Thursday or Friday and Fritzl faces life in prison if convicted.
Austrian Admists Rape But Not Murder [Reuters]
Fritzl Admits Rape, Denies Murder [BBC]
Josef Fritzl To Tell Court He Was Good Father To Dungeon Family [The Times of London]
Austrian To Plead Guilty To Rape And Incest, Lawyer Says [CNN]
Josef Fritzl Cellar Trial Begins In Austria [The Guardian]