An Austrian man who fathered seven children with a daughter he held captive in a cellar for more than two decades has pleaded guilty to rape and incest, but denies murdering a newborn son. Josef Fritzl spoke at the start of what has been dubbed Austria's trial of the century.
Austrian engineer Josef Fritzl only said "no comment" when asked by a court reporter why he held his daughter Elisabeth for 24 years in a sound-proof cellar built beneath his home in the town of Amstetten. Fritzl conceived seven children with her, but one of them died.
Investigators say he also kept three of the children incarcerated from birth, while bringing others upstairs, where he lived with his wife who allegedly did not know of the incest. Fritzl apparently told her the children were abandoned by daughter Elisabeth who had fled to a cult.
The 73-year-old Fritzl is facing charges that include murder, incest and rape. He told the court in the town of St. Poelten, near the Austrian capital Vienna, that he was guilty of incest and raping his daughter. But he strongly denied he was responsible for murder by neglect.
Prosecutors argue Fritzl is 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 allegedly burned in a furnace.
The case, which made world headlines, was uncovered last year after he took some of the children out of the cellar, and his seriously ill daughter, Kerstin, to a hospital.
Kerstin, who was 19 at the time, had never been outside and her hospital trip eventually led to Fritzl's arrest in April last year. He allowed the now 43-year-old Elisabeth to leave the cellar to visit Kerstin in hospital. But Elisabeth also spoke to police about her life in captivity.
Austrian police chief Franz Polzer said Elisabeth "looked pale in her face" and "much older" than she is.
After we promised her confidentiality, he says, she told us her life story that was hard to believe.
Elisabeth and her six surviving children now live under a different identity and have receive treatment to help overcome the horrors they experienced.
Speaking at Fritzl's trial, Judge Andrea Humer, said she realized this is an emotionally charged case. But she urged the jurors and court to remain objective.
"Under article six of the European Convention on Human Rights which has been enforced in Austria for decades, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law," she said.
Defense lawyer Rudolf Mayer agreed and said Fritzl is not a "monster." He said the charge of enslavement was inappropriate as Fritzl "brought up a second family."
A verdict is expected Friday. Prosecutors and his defense team say Fritzl will likely remain locked up for the rest of his life.