Austria's Fritzl denies murder but admits incest

ST POELTEN, Austria (Reuters) – An Austrian man who fathered seven children with a daughter he held in a cellar for 24 years pleaded guilty to incest on Monday but denied murdering a newborn son who died underground.

The case of Josef Fritzl, 73, has sent a wave of revulsion through Austria and around the world. The trial drew hundreds of foreign journalists to the provincial court where the defendant arrived holding up a folder to conceal his face.

Fritzl pleaded "partially" guilty to rape — understood to mean he is contesting the way the charge is worded — and deprivation of liberty. He said he was fully guilty of depriving the children marooned underground of their liberty.

Fritzl, also pleaded innocent to a charge of enslaving his daughter Elisabeth for most of her life, according to Reuters reporters at the closed-door trial. A verdict was expected on Thursday or Friday. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Wearing a mismatched grey suit, Fritzl entered the courtroom flanked by six policemen and holding a blue folder with both hands to prevent photographs of his face.

He remained silent and motionless, ignoring questions from television crews before the judge and eight-person jury — six men and six women — entered and cameras were sent out.

Fritzl’s lawyer argued that a charge of enslavement was inappropriate and he would contest the gravest charge, murder.

FRITZL DENIES MURDER  

Prosecutors said Fritzl was responsible for the death of a twin who died shortly after being born in the cellar in 1996.

They said this was murder by neglect because Fritzl failed to seek help for the baby, whose body he burnt in a furnace.

"He shut (Elisabeth) away in the cellar and made her totally dependent on him, forcing her into sexual acts and treating her as if she was his own property," his charge sheet read.

Fritzl built the soundproofed cellar with a reinforced door under his home in the provincial town of Amstetten.

If he is found guilty of murder by the jury in St Poelten, near Vienna, he could be given a life sentence or 10-15 years in prison. His lawyer says his client is not a "sex monster," but expects to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Fritzl’s daughter and her six children, three of whom were incarcerated from birth, are now living in a secret location under new identities.

The case came to light when one of the three children who had never seen sunlight, 19-year-old Kerstin, fell seriously ill and was taken to hospital by Fritzl.

In comments via his lawyer last year, Fritzl said he had lived a "second life" in the windowless 60 sq metre (650 sq foot) cellar complex, watching adventure videos with the children and bringing flowers for Elisabeth, who cooked dinner.

Elisabeth told police she had been kept on a leash in the early months of her imprisonment. 

Fritzl told them he had threatened to kill his captives using gas if they tried to escape.

Three of the children born in the cellar were raised above ground by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie after he pretended Elisabeth had abandoned them. Police say Rosemarie did not know of her husband’s actions.

The case emerged less than two years after Austrian teenager Natascha Kampusch escaped from a basement where she had been held by a kidnapper for eight years.