Josef Fritzl was sentenced yesterday to life in prison, which he will serve in a psychiatric facility. However, due to a loophole, he could be released in 14 years.
As mentioned earlier, Fritzl, 73, changed his plea on day three of his trial, saying he was guilty of all charges, including murdering by neglect one of the seven children he fathered while he imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth in a homemade basement dungeon for 24 years. He initially denied murdering Michael, a twin born in the cellar, by refusing to get him medical treatment. He changed his plea on Wednesday after seeing his daughter in court, according to The Telegraph. He burst into tears and told the jury, "I regret from the bottom of my heart what I did to my family. Unfortunately I can't make amends for it. I can only try to find ways to limit the damage that has been done."
Fritzl was found guilty on all counts, including murder, rape, incest, false imprisonment and coercion in a unanimous verdict, reports Telegraph. He was also the first man convicted of slavery in Austria. Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said his client would not appeal the ruling and that it was "the logical consequence of his guilty plea."
Judge Andrea Humer told Frizl he would serve his life sentence in "a psychiatric unit for people with an abnormality of mind." However, according to The Telegraph, if he responds to treatment and is considered rehabilitated he will be transferred to a normal prison and be eligible for parole in 15 years. Under Austrian law, sentences are served concurrently not consecutively, and his longest sentence for the murder of his child carries a 15 year sentence. A spokesmen for the court said Fritzl could be released even sooner if transferred. "As he has already served 11 months on remand, that would go down to 14 years from now," said Franz Cutka, vice president of the court. Many criticized the court's decision, but Cutka said the Austrian justice system aims at "bringing the offenders back within the norms of society" rather than just punishing criminals.
Either way, Fritzl will have a much more comfortable life than the one he provided to his children in his cellar. During his imprisonment in the hospital unit at Mittersteig prison in Vienna, Fritzl will have his own cell with a shower, color TV, and personal computer, and be allowed to keep a pet. He will share a sitting room, kitchen, and outdoor garden with other inmates and be allowed to study a foreign language through the prison's learning center.
Rudolf Mayer, Fritzl's lawyer, said, "He doesn't mind where he goes. It's not like it's a hotel but he would like a prison close to home because it may be that relatives will go to see him." It's hard to imagine though what relatives would come see him. His sister-in-law, Christine Renner, said after hearing of the comparatively comfortable conditions in the psychiatric center, "What right does he have to live like this after all he has destroyed?" She added, "They should have put him in a pit, put a lid on it, locked it and thrown away the key."
As for Fritzl's wife Rosemarie, she has started divorce proceedings and was not called as a witness in the trial or questioned as a possible accomplice, reports Time, because the chief investigator said, "no wife would be able to accept such a thing if she had any knowledge about it." Elisabeth Fritzl has the right to bring a civil suit against Fritzl but Austrian officials say there are no plans to change any laws as a result of this case. Austria's social services never properly investigated when Elisabeth first ran away from home at 16 to escape her father's sexual abuse, police didn't question Fritzl's story that she'd joined a cult after he imprisoned her two years later, and the courts allowed him to adopt the three "upstairs children" that he said Elisabeth left on his doorstep over the years. However, there will be no official inquires into failures by the authorities that could have spared Elisabeth from her 24 years of imprisonment and torture.
Josef Fritzl Will Be Locked Up In Comfort [The Telegraph]
Josef Fritzl Trial: Loophole Means Fritzl Could Be Released In 14 Years [The Telegraph]
Austria Hastens to Close the Book on Ugliest Abuse Case [Time]