- Title: AUSTRIA: Incest father Josef Fritzl faces trial
- Date: 16th March 2009
- Summary: VARIOUS OF NEWSPAPERS IN VAN
- Embargoed: 31st March 2009 13:00
- Location: Austria
- Country: Austria
- Reuters ID: LVACC2I15N0RS8P6XSQAN88G0ECC
- Story Text: The media was setting up outside the regional court of St. Poelten in Austria on Sunday (March 15), the day before Josef Fritzl goes on trial there charged with locking his daughter Elisabeth in cellar for 24 years and fathering seven children with her.
The case sent a shudder of shame and revulsion through the town of Amstetten, which is around 70 kilometres (about 45 miles) away from St Poelten, after it came to light in April 2008.
Police say Fritzl lured his daughter into the cellar of his apartment block in Ybbs Street (Ybbsstrasse) in Amstetten in 1984. He claimed she had disappeared to join a sect and forced her to write letters telling people not to look for her.
Fritzl built the cellar complex at the back of the apartment block fitting locks on eight doors.
Elisabeth was abused and kept imprisoned in the window-less, sound-proofed network of underground cells with three of her children. The three captive children were locked in the cellar, in places only 1.70 metres high, from birth.
Meanwhile three other children who lived with Fritzl and wife Rosemarie led fairly normal lives, and attended a local school. One baby, a male twin, died shortly after being born in the cellar in 1996.
The case came to light when 19-year-old Kerstin, one of the three captive children, became seriously ill and was taken to hospital by Fritzl, where doctors appealed for her mother to come forward to give details of her medical history.
Elisabeth and her children initially spent time at the nearby Amstetten-Mauer clinic after being released from the cellar.
German media report that they have returned to the clinic before the beginning of the trial, to escape the large media interest surrounding the case.
Residents of Amstetten have also found it difficult to cope with the intense public and media interest in their town since the case was exposed.
Resident Johann Wimmer told Reuters Television he found the reporting of the case to be negative.
"The name of Amstetten will be always be linked to one person's crime. This is very irritating and terrible for us and we can't bear this in the long run," Wimmer said.
Another resident, Kurt Hahn, said he was troubled by reports Fritzl could spend only seven years in prison. "When someone does something like what he did, and then is freed in seven years, that is legally not right," he said.
Local Joerg Zehetner said it was not surprising Amstetten residents did not realise what was happening in the cellar of Fritzl's house in Ybbs Street.
"Who thinks, when they see someone buying lots of food in the supermarket, that that person obviously has a second family in a cellar? You just don't imagine that. It is a terrible story," Zehetner said.
Some locals feel the Fritzl case has damaged the reputation of their town. The Fritzl case become public less than two years after the world was shocked by the story of Austrian teenager Natascha Kampusch. She was abducted aged 10 as she walked to school in 1998 in a Vienna suburb. She was held in a cell by captor Wolfgang Prikopil, until she made a dash for freedom in August 2006. Prikopil committed suicide just hours after her escape. Independent investigators concluded in June 2008 that the Austrian police had failed to pursue leads which could have snared Kampusch's abductor quickly and averted her long ordeal.
The most serious charge facing the 73-year-old Fritzl is murder. One of the children Fritzl had with Elisabeth, a male twin, died shortly after being born in the cellar in 1996.
Prosecutors say this was murder through neglect because Fritzl failed to seek help for the baby, whose body he later incinerated. Under Austrian law, it is a straight murder charge.
Fritzl is also charged with five other offences including incest, rape, enslavement, coercion and deprivation of liberty.
Fritzl has been in investigative custody in St Poelten since the case was exposed in April 2008.
His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, says Fritzl will contest the murder charge, but will plead guilty to nearly all the other charges.
A psychiatric assessment carried out in late 2008 showed that, despite a severe personality disorder, Fritzl was fit for trial and aware of his actions during the 24-year period.
State prosecutors say Fritzl could serve 10-15 years or a life sentence in prison.
The verdict is expected on March 20.
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