Guilty to incest, “partially” guilty to rape, but not guilty to murder or enslavement, that is what Josef Fritzl, accused of imprisoning his daughter and fathering her children, pleaded when his trial opened. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
He is accused of the murder by neglect of one of his daughter’s children.
The 73-year-old, who refused to answer journalists’ questions was showed on TV pictures enter the courtroom with his face concealed by a blue file.
The trial, in the city of St Poelten, is attracting intense media interest. But the country is holding one of its most harrowing trials behind closed doors.
Josef Fritzl is being questioned over taped testimony from his daughter. On the opening day of the trial the court began viewing 11 hours of video, with the rest of the material to be shown in segments during the week.
Eligible for parole
In 1984, Mr Fritzl is alleged to have lured Elisabeth, his daughter, into a cellar with windowless soundproofed chambers beneath their house, to have imprisoned her there and raped her repeatedly over a number of years.
Until last April, the daughter and three of her seven children fathered by Fritzl, were kept captive in the cellar. Then the case came to light when one of the children became seriously ill and was taken to hospital.
Mr Fitzl is accused of murdering one of the newborn twin boys his daughter gave birth to in 1996, having failed to arrange medical care for the ailing infant.
It may be hard to prove the murder charge, but the enslavement carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, some legal experts told BBC’s Steve Rosenberg.
And some of the other charges against him carry a sentence of up to 15 years.
Under Austrian law convicts become eligible for parole having served half their sentence. Yet, Mr Rosenberg says there are other clauses which could prevent an eligible convict walking free if it is considered he could re-offend.
Court spokesman Franz Cutka gave an outline of the first day’s proceedings.
“After the public was excluded this morning, there was an interrogation of the accused, and the video recording, with the interview of the daughter was played to him and he was questioned about that”, he said.
He said that the trial would resume on Tuesday with a continuation of the video recording and an interrogation of the accused.
The recordings were made in the presence of a judge, the prosecution and Mr Fritzl’s lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, who were allowed to question her.
He stressed that due to the sensitivity of the trial, no details of the proceedings could be released.
Some details of the defendant’s behaviour outside the courtroom came from prison spokesman Lt Col Erich Huber-Guensthofer, who was also at the packed news conference.
He confirmed that the blue folder Mr Fritzl had been using to conceal his face from cameras was the defendant’s own and had not been given to him.
He added that all defendants had the right to carry notes into court.
The prison official was also asked about Mr Fritzl’s behaviour in custody.
“In prison, he behaved quite normally”, he said.
“He is not a special person, if he were in this room here, nobody would pay any attention to him. He follows the rules and he is polite.”
Mr Fritzl has used his daughter “as a toy” and showed “no sign of regret or any consciousness of wrongdoing”, said prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser in her opening statement.
She alleged that sometimes, he had raped her in front of their children in the cellar.
“I went down there twice and there’s a morbid atmosphere”, she added.
Mr Mayer argued his client was “a human being not a monster” and he appealed to jurors to be objective.
The trial is predicted to last just a week, with a verdict expected on Friday.