- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

ST. POELTEN, Austria | In a stunning turn of events, a man on trial for imprisoning his daughter for 24 years and fathering her seven children pleaded guilty Wednesday to all charges against him - including homicide. The move came after his daughter appeared unexpectedly in the courtroom this week.

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

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

Mr. Fritzl had been charged with homicide, enslavement, rape, incest, forced imprisonment and coercion. Initially he had only pleaded guilty to incest and forced imprisonment. The change of plea means he could face up to life in prison for the negligent homicide charge - literally “murder by neglect” in German.

Mr. Fritzl’s daughter, Elisabeth, was the prosecution’s key witness against him. Now 42, she was 18 when he imprisoned her in a cramped, windowless cell he built beneath the family’s home in the town of Amstetten. He then raped her for years.

Asked by the presiding judge what had led him to change his mind, Mr. Fritzl said it was the testimony from Elisabeth. Mr. Fritzl, jurors and others in court had viewed 11 hours of her videotaped statement during closed-door sessions Monday and Tuesday but officials were not allowed to discuss what happened in those sessions.

Mr. Fritzl’s attorney, Rudolf Mayer, said Mr. Fritzl had asked to see a psychiatrist after Tuesday’s court hearing.

“It must really have shaken him up,” he said, referring to Elisabeth’s testimony.

However, a person familiar with the trial told the Associated Press that Elisabeth was in the courtroom on both days when the public and media were excluded - suggesting her presence alone might have unnerved Mr. Fritzl and prompted him to change his pleas.

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

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

Mr. Fritzl expressed regret that he didn’t bring the ailing infant out of the dungeon and get medical help.

“I don’t know why I didn’t help,” Mr. Fritzl said. “I just overlooked it. I thought the little one would survive.”

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