Fritzl Gets Life Sentence for Murder, Rape, Imprisonment

Josef Fritzl, who hadimprisoned his daughter Elisabeth for 24 years and fathered her seven children in a windowless basement, was found guilty today of negligent homicide, rape, incest and enslavement, and sentenced to life in prison.

Chief prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser told the court that Fritzl, 73, had degraded his daughter to "a condition of total dependence and treated her like his property."

The life sentence came down a day after Fritzl suddenly pleaded guilty to all charges against him.

Fritzl's change of heart came after watching a videotape of his daughter Elisabeth testifying against him.

His lawyer Rudolf Mayer also revealed that Elisabeth had secretly attended the trial Tuesday and Wednesday, while the press was excluded from the courtroom. Mayer suggested that his daughter's accusing presence unnerved Fritzl and prompted him to change his pleas.

Mayer told reporters that his client had asked to see a psychiatrist after Wednesday's court session. "It must have really shaken him up," he said of Elisabeth's testimony.

The prosecutor reminded jurors that the children held captive with their mother never saw daylight until they were released from their ordeal in Amstetten, Austria.

"Do not let yourselves be deceived as Elisabeth was 24 years ago," Burkheiser urged jurors while calling for the maximum punishment in her closing argument.

Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, had called on the jurors to hand down a "mild" sentence considering the age of his client.

The trial in St. Poelten, Austria, began Monday with the defendant pleading guilty to imprisonment and incest charges but refusing to take responsibility for the death of infant Michael, one of the children born in the cellar.

According to Elisabeth's witness statement, which was videotaped and played in the courtroom Tuesday and Wednesday, the baby came down with breathing problems shortly after it was born. Fritzl ignored Elisabeth's pleas to get help for the infant saying, "What is is."

More than 60 hours later, the infant died and Fritzl admittedly tossed the dead body in the wood-burning furnace of the dark cellar where he was keeping his daughter imprisoned.

A neonatologist, a "child death specialist," hired by the court was present during Elisabeth's testimony, which was videotaped in a secret location before the trial began, and he confirmed that the baby could have survived if it had been given the proper care at the time.

On Wednesday, Fritzl abruptly reversed himself and pleaded guilty to negligent homicide.

"I Plead Guilty

"I plead guilty. I don't know why I didn't help," he said. "I hoped that he would pull through. I should have done something."

Asked by the judge what made him change his mind, Fritzl said it was his daughter's heart-wrenching testimony. "I declare myself guilty to the charges of the indictment," Fritzl told the panel of judges, referring to what he called "my sick behavior."

The court had viewed 11 hours of Elisabeth's witness statement during closed-door proceedings on the previous days, but officials were not allowed to provide any details.

Before the trial, prosecutors had said that neither Elisabeth nor her children would be present.

Following the closing arguments today, Fritzl told the court, "I'm sorry I can't make good what I've done. I regret it from the bottom of my heart."

Elisabeth's lawyer, Eva Platz, said Fritzl's remarks should not be mistaken as a sign of remorse.

"Nobody knows the accused as well as my client [Elisabeth]. I can say what you heard is no confession. Why did he only change his mind yesterday?" she asked, suggesting Fritzl was only seeking a milder sentence.

Elisabeth and her six surviving children, who were between the ages of 5 and 19, when they were released in April last year, have been put under protective custody and psychiatric care for about eight months. They now have new identities and are living in a secret location in Austria.