Dungeon trial: Fritzl changes plea to guilty on all charges

Josef Fritzl is seen without his face covered and surrounded by security guards Tuesday.
Josef Fritzl, who had been accused of keeping his daughter in a cellar for decades and fathering her seven children, changed his plea to guilty to all the charges made against him Wednesday in an Austrian court.

Fritzl had already pleaded guilty to incest and other charges, but previously denied charges of murder and enslavement. He also previously pleaded “partly guilty” — an option in Austrian court — to multiple charges of raping his daughter, Franz Cutka, a spokesman for the court in Landesgericht St. Poelten, said Monday. A verdict had been expected on Thursday, Cutka said before Fritzl changed his plea. Fritzl’s daughter Elisabeth had testified on an 11-hour videotape, portions of which were played Monday, and about which Fritzl was asked. The remainder of the tape was played Tuesday, officials said. Watch second day of the Fritzl trial » One of Elisabeth Fritzl’s brothers, Harald, also testified by video Tuesday, a court spokesman said. The media and public have been barred from the courtroom for sensitive parts of the trial. Authorities have said Elisabeth and her children were given new identities and are in a secret location. Details of her testimony were not made clear at the daily afternoon news conference. Asked at the news conference why other family members have not testified, officials said they did not wish to do so. Watch media at Fritzl trial » The murder charge relates to an infant named Michael Fritzl who died soon after birth, allegedly from lack of medical care, State Prosecutor Gerhard Sedlacek says. A neo-natal expert gave evidence Tuesday in relation to the murder charge. As he had Monday when the trial opened, Fritzl concealed his face behind a file binder as he arrived in court to shield himself from reporters, television cameras and photographers and escorted by a phalanx of police officers.

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Later Tuesday he dropped his guard and was pictured with the binder by his side, talking to security guards. During the trial, prosecutors have painted a chilling picture of the more than two decades Elisabeth spent in the cellar of the family home in Amstetten with three of her children. Fritzl took three other children upstairs, authorities have said, telling his wife and other relatives that the missing Elisabeth had dropped them at the house. The woman and the remaining children never saw daylight, prosecutors said, and Fritzl went away for long periods of time, causing them to go hungry when he did not bring them food. Watch Fritzl’s first day in court » To punish them, prosecutors said, Fritzl sometimes turned the power off in the cellar for up to 10 days. In addition, they alleged, Elisabeth was often sexually assaulted in front of the children. The case first came to light in April 2008 when Elisabeth’s then-19-year-old daughter, Kerstin, became seriously ill with convulsions, and Elisabeth persuaded her father to allow the girl to be taken to a hospital. Hospital staff became suspicious and alerted police, who discovered the family members in the cellar. Police said Fritzl confessed to them that he had sex with his daughter, kept her and their children in captivity, and burned the body of the infant in an oven in the house. Elisabeth told police the infant was one of twins, and died a few days after birth. When Elisabeth gained her freedom, she told police her father began sexually abusing her at age 11. Seven years later, she said, he drugged, handcuffed and locked her in the cellar. To back up his story that she had run away, Fritzl forced Elisabeth to write letters, authorities have said. Defense attorney Rudolph Mayer has said his client, 73, expects to spend the rest of his life in prison. Under Austrian law, if Fritzl is convicted on several offenses, he will be given the sentence linked to the worst crime. The charges he faces are: • Murder: The infant who died in 1996 died from a lack of medical care, the state prosecutor said. The charge carries a sentence of life in prison. • Involvement in slave trade: From 1984 until 2008, prosecutors allege, Fritzl held his daughter, Elisabeth, captive in a dungeon, abused her sexually and treated her as if she were his personal property — in a situation similar to slavery. If he is convicted, the sentence could range from 10 to 20 years in prison. • Rape: Between August 30, 1984, and June 30, 1989, Fritzl “regularly sexually abused Elisabeth,” according to the prosecutor. The sentence could be from five to 15 years in prison. • Incest: Parallel to the rape charge. It carries a sentence of up to one year.

• Withdrawal of liberty: Three of the children Fritzl had with Elisabeth were illegally held captive in a dungeon with no daylight or fresh air, according to prosecutors. That charge carries a sentence of one to 10 years. • Assault: Between August 28, 1984, and April 26, 2006, Fritzl repeatedly threatened Elisabeth and their three children with gas and booby traps as warnings in case they tried to escape, authorities allege. The sentence would range from six months to five years.