Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Crushed by his daughter's words

By Bethany Bell
BBC News, St Poelten

Josef Fritzl at his trial, 17 March
Fritzl watched most of the taped testimony on Tuesday
It was an extraordinary turn of events at the trial of Josef Fritzl.

Shortly after he entered court, this time with his face uncovered, the judge asked him to sit in the dock.

She asked him if he had anything to say after viewing the 11 hours of his daughter's video-taped testimony.

"I plead guilty," he said.

The atmosphere was taut. He spoke in a low voice.

Some of the journalists in court leant forward in their seats, anxious to catch every word.

The judge asked him about the death of the baby in the cellar, one of the seven children he fathered by his daughter.

"I should have got help," he said. "I am sorry."

Then he repeated: "I plead guilty."

His back was turned to us so we could not see his face as he said these words - but his voice was steady.

'Need for power'

Josef Fritzl made this decision to change his plea without consulting his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer.

Mr Mayer told me that his client had been emotionally "destroyed" by his daughter's testimony - and that he had finally begun to understand something of what she had been through.

It was a huge turnaround, he said, for a man who was not "normal", a man who had an overwhelming urge to dominate and control.

That was also the message of psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner, who met Fritzl several times and put together a psychological profile of him for the court.

Addressing the court from the bench, she said Fritzl's "basic need was for power".

"It is about domination, about power, about control," she said.

She said Fritzl knew he was acting against all the rules, that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

As Dr Kastner described the accused's childhood and his difficult relationship with his mother, who had seen him as "a burden and a calamity", Fritzl stared ahead, twisting his thumbs.

Dr Kastner said that he had picked out his third daughter as his victim because she was the most similar to him, "obstinate and strong".

She said it was more "satisfying" to him to control a strong personality.

He was determined to have someone who belonged to him alone, the psychiatrist said.

She said the large number of children he fathered only strengthened the control he had over his victim.

She recommended that Fritzl be held in a psychiatric facility, as she said there was a danger that he would repeat his behaviour if left untreated.

After the psychiatrist's testimony and brief consideration of reports about the cellar, officials adjourned the trial until Thursday, when the verdict and sentencing are expected.

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