Page last updated at 22:10 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Fritzl hears daughter's testimony


Josef Fritzl arrives at court for his trial

Josef Fritzl has faced questions over taped testimony by his daughter, at the start of his trial for crimes against the children he kept in a cellar.

The Austrian court began viewing 11 hours of video on the opening day, with the rest of the material to be shown in segments during the week.

Austria is holding one of its most harrowing trials behind closed doors.

Mr Fritzl, 73, pleads guilty to incest and "partially" guilty to rape but not guilty to murder or enslavement.

Addressing media at the end of the first day of proceedings in the town of St Poelten, the court spokesman said the trial would resume at 0900 on Tuesday (0800 GMT).

A human being not a monster
Defence lawyer Rudolf Mayer describing his client

Mr Fritzl is alleged in 1984 to have lured his daughter into a cellar with windowless soundproofed chambers beneath their house, to have imprisoned her there and raped her repeatedly over a number of years.

The daughter and three of her seven children fathered by Fritzl were kept captive in the cellar until the case came to light in April last year when one of the children became seriously ill and was taken to hospital.

He is accused of murdering one of the newborn twin boys his daughter gave birth to in 1996, having failed to arrange medical care for the ailing infant.

Some legal experts have said it may be hard to prove the murder charge but the charge of enslavement carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, the BBC's Steve Rosenberg reports from St Poelten.

Court spokesman describes first day

Some of the other charges against him carry a sentence of up to 15 years.

While convicts become eligible for parole having served half their sentence under Austrian law, there are other clauses which could prevent an eligible convict walking free if it is considered he could re-offend, our correspondent notes.

'Normal behaviour'

Court spokesman Franz Cutka gave an outline of the first day's proceedings.

"After the public was excluded this morning, there was an interrogation of the accused, and the video recording, with the interview of the daughter was played to him and he was questioned about that," he said.

Josef Fritzl, his face partially hidden by a folder, attends his trial, 16 March
Murder - not guilty plea
Enslavement - not guilty plea
Deprivation of liberty - guilty plea
Rape - partially guilty plea*
Incest - guilty plea
Coercion - guilty plea

*Understood to mean he is contesting the wording of the charges

The trial would, he said, resume on Tuesday with a continuation of the video recording and an interrogation of the accused.

The recording was made in the presence of a judge, the prosecution and Mr Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, who were allowed to question her.

Due to the sensitivity of the trial, no details of the proceedings could be released, he stressed.

Prison spokesman Lt Col Erich Huber-Guensthofer, who was also at the packed news conference, did give some details of the defendant's behaviour outside the courtroom.

Asked about the blue folder Mr Fritzl had been using to conceal his face from cameras, he confirmed that it was the defendant's own and had not been given to him.

All defendants had the right to carry notes into court, he added.

The prison official was also asked about Mr Fritzl's behaviour in custody.

"In prison, he behaved quite normally," he said.

"He is not a special person, if he were in this room here, nobody would pay any attention to him. He follows the rules and he is polite."

'Years of silence'

In her opening statement, prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser said Mr Fritzl had shown "no sign of regret or any consciousness of wrongdoing".

She alleged that he had not spoken to his daughter for the first years of her captivity, descending to the cellar only to rape her before returning upstairs.

Mr Fritzl, said the prosecutor, treated his daughter like his own property.

He had, she alleged, sometimes raped her in front of their children in the cellar.

Mr Mayer argued his client was "a human being not a monster" and he appealed to jurors to be objective.

The defendant himself, his voice almost inaudible, talked to the judge about his childhood, saying he had been beaten by his mother.

Asked if he had any friends, he simply replied "No".

The trial is predicted to last just a week, with a verdict predicted as early as Thursday.

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