- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ST. POELTEN, AUSTRIA (AP) - In a stunning turn of events, an Austrian on trial for imprisoning his daughter for 24 years and fathering her seven children pleaded guilty Wednesday to all charges against him _ including negligent homicide. The move came after his daughter reportedly made an unannounced appearance in the courtroom.

Surprising even his lawyer, Josef Fritzl calmly acknowledged his guilt on the third day of a trial that has drawn worldwide media attention for its shocking allegations.

“I declare myself guilty to the charges in the indictment,” Fritzl, 73, told a panel of judges, referring to what he called “my sick behavior.”

Fritzl faces up to life imprisonment on the negligent homicide count, which he initially had contested along with an enslavement charge. Prosecutors also had charged him with rape, incest, forced imprisonment and coercion.

Asked by the presiding judge what had led him to change his mind, Fritzl said it was the testimony from his daughter Elisabeth. Fritzl, jurors and the rest of the court had viewed 11 hours of her videotaped testimony during closed-door sessions Monday and Tuesday.

However, a person familiar with the trial told The Associated Press that Elisabeth was in the courtroom on both days _ suggesting her presence alone might have shaken Fritzl and prompted him to change his pleas.

The source spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the closed-door proceedings.

Other officials would not confirm that Elisabeth was there. Before the trial, prosecutors had said she would not be present and would testify only through her prerecorded remarks.

Elisabeth was the prosecution’s key witness against Fritzl. Now 42, she was 18 when he imprisoned her in the cramped, windowless cell he built beneath the family’s home in the town of Amstetten.

The negligent homicide charge came for the death of an infant twin boy _ Michael _ born to Elisabeth in April 1996 who prosecutors say might have survived with proper medical care had he and his mother not been locked in the basement.

Elisabeth and her six surviving children, who range in age from 6 to 20, have spent months recovering from their ordeal in a psychiatric clinic and at a secret location.

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