“I regret from the bottom of my heart what I have done to my family. Unfortunately, I cannot make amends for it. I can only try to look for possibilities to try to limit the damage that’s been done.”
Those were the last words spoken by Josef Fritzl before the court at St Pölten passed judgment on him. They found him guilty on all 6 counts: rape, deprivation of liberty, incest, coercion, slavery and murder. His punishment: Life imprisonment.
Court representatives said Fritzl appeared ‘composed‘ as his sentence was read out. He immediately accepted the sentence, as did the prosecution, meaning that it is legally binding and ruling out any right of appeal.
Fritzl’s defense lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, confirmed that Elisabeth had been present for part of the trial.
‘This is what triggered the agitation that led him to confess,’ Mayer told German N-TV news channel, referring to his client’s surprising change of heart.
The life sentence would entail a minimum of 15 years in prison, according to Franz Cutka, vice president of St Pölten courts. The 11 months he has already spent incarcerated would count towards that sentence. On the advice of Adelheid Kastner, the forensic psychiatrist who spent 25 hours evaluating Fritzl’s mental health, he will first be sent to the Mittersteig prison in Vienna for an evaluation. Afterward, Fritzl may then be transferred to another prison or psychiatric institution. Kastner told the jury that locking him up without therapy and treatment could be dangerous, and that there was a real risk he would try to take his own life. She also said that Fritzl had a serious personality disorder and would pose a threat to others if freed. He remains under a suicide watch.
“He has the right to voice an opinion on where he should be sent, but this wish has to tally with any expert opinion and with the directorate of the prison,” said Huber-Günsthofer the deputy director of St Pölten prison, where Fritzl has been held since his arrest last April.
There was never really any doubt of Fritzl’s guilt, even his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, admitted that Fritzl had raped his daughter 3,000 times, but his fate was sealed when Fritzl changed his plea to guilty on all counts, including the “murder by neglect” of his infant son, Michael. This was the most serious charge against him and it was this charge that earned him the life sentence.
“The life sentence was a consequence of his confession,” Mayer told reporters after the jury’s decision. “After confessing to 3,000 instances of rapes, 24 years of captivity in a cellar, plus murder, it’s obvious that such a sentence will be handed down.”
At a news conference after the verdict, court officials said Elisabeth could bring a separate civil case against Fritzl to seek damages for her suffering, adding there was no limit to what she could request. They said the Austrian government would join in on bankruptcy proceedings that Fritzl recently initiated, and said the process could involve selling his seven real estate holdings — including the house in Amstetten where he held his daughter. They also said Fritzl would have to secure permission from Austria’s Justice Ministry if he wanted to write and sell his memoirs.
Amstetten’s mayor verbalized the unspoken thoughts of the people of his town – and perhaps for most Austrians – who for almost a year came under the intense attention of the entire world when he said:
‘A dark chapter in the history of our town is now closed,’ said Amstetten Mayor Herbert Katzengruber after the guilty verdict was announced. ‘We all hoped it would turn out this way.’