VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children by her, has been charged with the murder of one of their children who died shortly after birth.
Prosecutors said on Thursday they had also charged Fritzl, 73, with rape, enslavement, incest, coercion and deprivation of liberty. His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said Fritzl would not appeal against the charge sheet — an option under Austrian law. He does not need to enter a plea immediately.
Mayer told Reuters that the trial would start in the next two or so months.
Fritzl, who has been in investigative custody since the case was exposed in April, kept daughter Elisabeth in a soundproofed basement under his house in the central town of Amstetten.
He was charged with murder of the child through neglect in 1996. Fritzl burned the child’s body in a furnace, police investigators said in April shortly after his arrest.
“He is suspected of killing this newborn because, despite knowing the life-threatening situation it was in, he was not driven to seek necessary help,” the St Poelten provincial prosecutors’ office said in a statement.
This is a straight murder charge under Austrian law.
“He forced Elisabeth into slave-like conditions ... shut her away in the cellar and made her totally dependent on him, forcing her into sexual acts and treating her as if she was his own property,” it said.
The prosecutors also said he had threatened to kill his daughter and their imprisoned children by gassing them or through an explosion if they tried to escape.
A psychiatric report commissioned by justice authorities last month declared Fritzl to be mentally fit for a trial, which is expected to begin before a jury early next year. He could face life imprisonment if convicted of murder.
The statement recommended that Fritzl, if convicted, be confined in an institution for the mentally disturbed.
Repeated calls to Fritzl’s lawyer went unanswered and the Austrian news agency APA reported that he had declined to comment on the case.
According to the police, Fritzl lured his daughter into the basement in 1984, drugged her and locked her up. He claimed she had disappeared to join a sect.
Three of Elisabeth’s children were raised by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie in their home after he pretended that his ‘runaway’ daughter had left them on his doorstep with a letter saying she could not care for them.
The other three children remained marooned in the windowless basement with their mother.
Mayer said earlier this year his client was “emotionally a broken man” and that it would be hard for him to get a fair trial in front of a jury because of the massive publicity generated by the case.
In September Fritzl visited the cellar under police guard on the request of his lawyer in order to examine the locks. Fritzl has told police the locked door to the cellar would have opened automatically if he had been away for an extended period.
Additional reporting by Alexandra Zawadil; Editing by Richard Balmforth