17 Mar 2009

Fritzl denies murder, admits incest

5:39 am on 17 March 2009

An Austrian man who fathered seven children with a daughter he held in a cellar for 24 years has pleaded guilty to incest, but denied murdering their newborn son or enslaving his daughter.

Josef Fritzl, 73, entered court in St Poelten, near Vienna, flanked by six policemen and concealing his face behind a blue loose-leaf binder.

He later lowered the folder and with his back to the gallery, spoke softly, sometimes mumbling, in response to questions about personal details and his plea.

Prosecutors said Fritzl, who faces life in prison if convicted, was responsible for the death of a twin who died shortly after being born in the cellar in 1996.

They said this was murder by neglect because Fritzl failed to seek help for the baby, whose body he burnt in a furnace.

Prompted by the judge several times, Fritzl pleaded "partially" guilty to rape and said he was guilty of depriving the children who were kept underground of their liberty.

He also pleaded innocent to a charge of enslaving his daughter Elisabeth for most of her life.

Fritzl, a retired engineer, built a soundproofed cellar with a reinforced door under his home in the town of Amstetten.

His daughter and her six children, three of whom were incarcerated in the cellar from birth, are now living in a secret location under new identities.

Three of the children were raised above ground by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie after he pretended Elisabeth had abandoned them. Police say Rosemarie did not know of her husband's actions.