Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The trial of [Josef] Fritzl – on charges of imprisoning and raping his daughter for almost a quarter of a century and murdering one of the seven children he fathered with her – was never going to be routine. It was indeed billed as Austria’s Trial of the Century.
But no one had reckoned with the concentrated drama that was packed into the first day of hearings – from the moment Fritzl appeared with his head buried in a blue folder to shield him from the cameras, to the prosecution’s attempts to recreate the atmosphere of the dungeon, to the claims by his defence that he was no monster but a caring family man.
[Austrian prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser] task was to make the jurors feel like temporary prisoners of Fritzl. First, she had the height of the adapted cellar – he had told the authorities he was building a nuclear bunker – marked on the doorpost of the courtroom in St Pölten: 1.78 metres (6ft). Then, she passed to the jury objects retrieved from the cellar where Elisabeth gave birth to her children. “Smell!” said the prosecutor. And the jurors retched at the sheer pungency of 24-year-old mould.
“They had to crawl on their knees in order to get around the dungeon,” she told the court. “It was damp and mouldy. The dampness crept into their backs and into their bones.”
To drive home her point, the prosecutor threaded the phrase “light on, light off” throughout her speech. Fritzl, she made clear, wanted absolute control over his downstairs family.
“How do you explain yourself? How can you abuse your daughter for 24 years?” asked Austrian television reporters, thrusting their microphones into the dock. [Fritzl] did not answer.
"...my client did not behave like a monster," said Rupert Mayer, his defence lawyer. “The special point is that he chose his daughter for this role, that he created children together with her and looked after them . . . he bought them schoolbooks, celebrated Christmas and birthdays with them.”
Labels: Josef Fritzl
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