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« The Josef Fritzl Trial - Day Two | Main | Children Raping Children »

The Josef Fritzl Trial - Day One

Fritzl HidesFritzl in CourtFritzl and Binder

The trial of Josef Fritzl, 73, - who for 24 years incarcerated and raped his own daughter who bore him 7 children, 6 of whom survived - has begun. Catch the story from the beginning in this 5-part video called The Josef Fritzl Story and read about developments in the case since being arrested and imprisoned on The Josef Fritzl Page.

On the first day of the trial news organizations from around the world descended on the Austrian town of St. Poelten to witness what some have called Austria's trial of the century. Cameras were only allowed in the courtroom for the beginning of the proceedings.

Josef Fritzl is charged with 6 crimes: rape, deprivation of liberty, incest, coercion, slavery and murder. In court he pleaded guilty to 4 of those charges and not guilty on the other two:

Murder - Not Guilty
Enslavement - Not Guilty
Deprivation of liberty - Guilty
Incest - Guilty
Coercion - Guilty
Rape - Partially Guilty

On the rape charge he entered a plea of partially guilty, which is permissible. Fritzl could plead guilty to the rape charge in general but dispute the prosecution’s claims as to the degree of violence he used. Austrian law differentiates between the severity of rapes and levels of coercion, and takes into account the degree of violence used and the consequences for the victim. His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, is expected to clarify Fritzl's plea on this charge.

Court FritzlFritzl House

The trial began with the prosecution pressing for life imprisonment in an institution for the criminally insane. Chief prosecutor Christiane Burkhauser described Fritzl's crimes as inconceivable.  He "showed no sign of regret or any consciousness of wrongdoing," she said.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser described how, on 29 August 1984, Fritzl sedated his then 18-year-old daughter by putting a cloth over her nose and mouth and dragged her into the cellar. He then secured a chain around her stomach so she had no chance to escape. The next day he raped her. As she bore his children over the next 24 years, he repeatedly raped her in front of them, the court heard. She went towards the eight jurors with a box of musty objects and scraps of cloth, from the cellar where Elisabeth and her children had lived to give them an idea of the conditions in which they were locked up. "Smell these things," she urged the jury, who flinched back in their seats.

"It was his playground. He used her like a toy," said Burkheiser.

She told the jury to imagine living underground in a damp space just 11 metres square (118 sq ft) – the same size as the jury bench – kitted out with just "a wash basin, a sleeping corner, no warm water, no shower, no heating, and worst of all, no daylight" she said, adding it was also "incredibly humid" and the air was moldy and stale.

"They had to crawl on their knees in order to get around the dungeon," she told the court. "It was damp and mouldy. The dampness crept into their backs and into their bones." Only after nine years was the cellar expanded.

At other times, she said, Fritzl punished his daughter by shutting off the electricity _ plunging the dungeon cell into darkness for days at a time. "Josef Fritzl used his daughter like his property," Burkheiser said.

Christiane Burkheiser, who is 32 and conducting her first major case since being made chief prosecutor, said that he had treated his daughter as a toy - an allegation linked to the enslavement charge, which Fritzl denies.

The defense lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, appealed to the jury to be objective and not be swayed by emotions. He insisted Fritzl was "not a monster". Before the trial got under way, Mayer said his client was nervous. "He told me, 'I'm scared, Mr Mayer'."

Addressing the jury, Mayer said: "You need to keep emotions out of this. Even with someone like him who has been described as a monster, it's irrelevant if he is an unsympathetic character or a monster."

Mayer described how Fritzl had managed to care for "two families" – "you cannot call someone who does that a monster". He added: "If you only want your daughter for sex you don't want children. You would let them starve."

As if to try to explain his actions Fritzl told the court that he had had a very difficult childhood. He told the three judges and eight jurors that, at the age of 12, he had made it clear to his own mother that he would not tolerate being beaten any longer and would defend himself.

"From that point on, I was Satan personified for her," he said. She never showed him any affection and his father appeared only "rarely and sporadically", he said.


Josef FritzlElisabeth FritzlFritzl Hides

In the afternoon session the court was said to have begun watching an 11-hour video testimony in which Elisabeth recounted her ordeal. The video was stopped at points for Fritzl to respond, said Franz Cutka, a court spokesman. The court will continue to watch it tomorrow.

Four expert witnesses are ready to give evidence if necessary: a doctor who specializes in newborns, a psychiatrist, an electrical engineer and a surveyor who inspected the dungeon.

Neither Fritzl's wife, Rosemarie, nor any of his other children will give evidence at the trial because they have refused to do so.

Central to the trial is the ­accusation that Fritzl murdered, through neglect, a baby twin called Michael born to his daughter in the cellar in 1996. The boy had breathing difficulties and died when he was three days old. Prosecutors will argue that Fritzl could have saved his life if he had got medical help. Instead the baby died in his mother's arms and Fritzl disposed of the corpse in an incinerator in his back yard.

If convicted of murder Fritzl faces life imprisonment. If not, the maximum sentence he could expect to receive would be 15 years. According to legal experts he could potentially be out of prison in six and a half years, having already served a year in prison.

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Reader Comments (6)

We all smell fish and I suspect the press is keeping a good deal of the facts hidden from us. Rosemarie didn't know? The grandchildren didn't know? The tenants didn't know? The victims obviously ate or they wouldn't be alive. Eating produces trash. Children produce trash such as diapers. 24 years worth of trash for four people would certainly be hard to sneak out without the wife or grandchildren knowing. How did Fritzi sneak all those extra groceries in to feed an extra four mouths? Somebody did the grocery shopping - who was it? There wasn't room for a pantry in the dungeon obviously. How would Rosemarie not notice those extra items disappearing off her pantry shelves? How did Fritzl justify the grocery budget being double for all those years? The dungeon pics actually looked pretty clean in comparison to what I expected. With all the births and raping going on, I expected to see at least a little blood and a urine-stained toilet.
Are you telling me that those three grandchildren Rosemarie raised never got curious about the locked dungeon or the knocking pipes? There is no way construction workers were hired to add rooms without those three grandchildren questioning it. Kids HATE locked doors and hidden places. If they were normally adjusted and fit well into school, then they would have a normal curiosity about such things.
Another fact about criminals. They never rape just once or just one victim. Such men never rape just one child. I guarantee Fritzl was raping all the females in his household.
Additionally, Elisabeth had 24 years to plan her escape. She had two grown children living with her in the basement who could have helped over power this man.
There were also books in the cellar for her to educate her children so obviously he was planning on these kids getting out on their own at some point.
I smell fish big time. Once again, the public is not being given all the facts.
This is one sick family and one day we will read about the grandchildren perpetrating these same crimes on their own family members. Don't forget, Fritzl was a victim of crime himself but we certainly don't feel sorry for him now, although we would have back when he was a child being abused. Fritz was operating his own little cult raising two, whole, new generations of mentally unbalanced individuals. We can lock Fritzl up but this won't fix his crime family legacy or the personality disorders handed down to his descendants.
If his children and grandchildren were normal, I think they would have killed him a long time ago out of self defense.

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEnlightened

Mr./Ms. Enlightened- I find it unimaginable that you could even begin to blame Elizabeth. Also, mortified that you are defending Josef. Giving her books does not make him "nice". And thinking she had 24 years to -in your words - plan an escape. What? No doubt being brain-washed that they would die somehow if they tried to escape might have halted that plan. Think about it. I do agree her mother must have been aware but she is either mentally weak or too scared to say anything. That's all. I just wish her and her family can move on. I never comment on these boards but your insensitive statements are beyond belief.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusie

Being a victim of violent crime as a child does NOT have to be a defining factor preceeding doing the same abhorrent things later down the road to someone else. There ARE people who have been victimized, grown up hushed or having got help, and have come out the other end vowing never to let someone else suffer the way they have, and NOT becoming what they fear most. The wife knew, or if she didn't, she should be strung out for being so damned dumb. You cannot tell me this woman was utterly clueless. Madoff's wife didn't know her hubby was up to something when he started putting assets into her name and the kids' names either right??

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterliltat2chick

Just wanter to clarify that I was referring to Elizabeth when I wrote "I just wish her and her family can move on"( though I can't imagine how). Not her cluless mother. By the way, I totally agree with you about Madoff's wife.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusie

I too agree that Elithabith is lieing first of all the extension was made at 1978 and approved 1983 before she was locked so she was lieing about the fact that it was added 9 years after, also their is an eye witness who said their was a plumber who was allowed downstairs so they were not locked the fact that his kids who were suposingly according to ELithabith were locked, refused to testify which means they don't agree with elithabith they believed she (their mother elithabith) wanted to live with the kids down may be claiming to be away from the evil world, ELithabith is guilty of imprisoning her kids too, I do believe that it started by a punishment from her father or may be to help her out of a drug addiction and then things went out of control she was spoiled and decided to punish him by manipulating him to have sex with her , she was able to leave but she didn't want to, she wanted to be discovered by the police, as for rosie, her husband is a busines man if goes down regularly she will never ask him, ?I never ask my husband what is he doing or where is he going and no one ever asks his landlord where are they going or what are they doing and ofcourse their was no food hidden from rosie , he bought more food also the bunker wasn't as small as Elithabith described and you can refer to the wikipedia for images of the bunker and for dates of extension

March 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpeace

The comment from Peace is clearly so cruelly idiotic that is must be a joke, or from a person as psychotic almost as Fritzl himself. Not even Fritzl denies that everything Elisabeth has said is true. Why the rant about the room specifications and dates? If someone asked me to tell them the exact specs about my house (dates of extensions etc), I couldn't tell them - and I haven't endured pure hell over the last 24 years to cloud my judgment. As to the comments about the mother - Rosemarie - I agree that, on some level, she must have known something was going on. The extra food and trash would have to raised a question, not to mention the fact that there was a section of her house she was denied entry to for 24 years. At first my instinct was to accuse her, and after looking over the reported facts I would conclude she was a subservient, suppressed woman who lived her life being willingly blind under the rule of Fritzl. This doesn't mean I have any sympathy for her: her love for her children should have given her strength to rise above this man to begin with (Fritzl abused Elizabeth for six years in the "upstairs" section of the house before prisoning her). However, I suppose none of us know what lengths he went to to conceal his terrible crime.

March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKarene

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