Page last updated at 20:49 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Subdued verdict caps week of horror

As Josef Fritzl - the Austrian man who imprisoned his daughter for more than 20 years, repeatedly raped her and fathered seven children by her - is handed a life sentence, the BBC's Bethany Bell describes the atmosphere in the courtroom, in the town of St Poelten.

Fritzl and guard - photo 19 March
Fritzl showed no emotion during the verdict
There was a curiously relaxed feeling in court before the final session of the trial began, almost like a sense of relief.

The state prosecutor, a friendly-looking woman, laughed gently as she spoke to a colleague.

The lawyer for the Fritzl family, Eva Platz, chatted to the court psychiatrist, Adelheid Kastner, who was sitting with a fur coat slung over the back of her chair. Both were smiling.

Even Josef Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, smiled occasionally, as he waited.

A policeman paced slowly up and down in front of the gallery, where around 100 journalists had gathered.

There was a buzz of excited conversation.


Out of the high windows you could see snow on the rooftop of another wing of the court building.

Now justice has finally come for Josef Fritzl's family, but the scars of his crimes are likely to last a lifetime.

The atmosphere changed when the jury came into court, followed by the judge - and finally Josef Fritzl himself - surrounded by at least 10 policemen.

A member of the jury read out the answers to the questions that the three judges had put to them. The verdict was unanimous. Josef Fritzl was guilty of all counts against him.

As he listened to the verdict, Josef Fritzl remained quite still, betraying no sign of emotion.

The judge asked him if he had understood the sentence. "I accept," he said in a low voice.

She asked him if he understood the consequences.

He nodded.

She told him he had the right to appeal. Fritzl glanced at his lawyer and replied he would not.

Then he was taken out of court.

Fritzl is due to serve his life sentence in a secure psychiatric facility in one of Austria's prisons.

In the morning session Fritzl told the court that he could not undo what he had done, but he said he was sorry.

Sensitive testimony

The verdict followed almost a week of horrifying evidence.

During the public parts of the trial we heard how Fritzl had raped his daughter more than 3,000 times - often in front of their children - in the damp, stinking cellar.

The prosecution described how the daughter had given birth with just a blanket, some scissors and a book on childbearing.

And the court was told how she had had to watch one of her sons die through lack of medical help, 66 hours after he was born.

But many of the details weren't revealed in public.

Much of the case took place behind closed doors - the testimony of his daughter was too sensitive.

Now justice has finally come for Josef Fritzl's family, but the scars of his crimes are likely to last a lifetime.

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