14 Nov 2008

Cellar father charged with baby's murder

6:48 am on 14 November 2008

The Austrian father who allegedly imprisoned and abused his daughter for 24 years has been charged with murdering one of their seven children.

Austrian prosecutors say the charges against Joseph Fritzl carry a prison sentence of 10 years to life.

Mr Fritzl is also charged with slavery and rape. If found guilty, he faces 20 years in jail on those charges.

He has been in custody since the case came to light in April and a trial is expected to begin early next year.

Mr Fritzl fathered seven children with his daughter Elisabeth, now aged 42, in a cellar at his home in Amstetten, west of Vienna.

Three of them grew up in the cellar - without ever seeing daylight - while three others were brought up by Mr Fritzl's wife.

Prosecutors have now levelled charges at him over the death of the seventh child, a baby born in the underground chamber.

Mr Fritzl is alleged to have refused to call for medical help after the baby was born, despite knowing the child could die. He has told police that he took the body of the child and incinerated it in a furnace.

Under Austrian law the act of not seeking medical attention for the newborn child is classified as murder.

Mr Fritzl, 73, was declared mentally fit to stand trial in October. His lawyer has refused to comment on the charges against his client.

Elisabeth Fritzl disappeared in August 1984, when, police say, her father lured her downstairs, drugged her and handcuffed her before locking her up.

Mr Fritzl had told his wife - and social services - that Elisabeth had run away to join a sect.