By Domenica Goduto
Josef Fritzl, the mild-mannered Austrian electrician who achieved notoriety when it was revealed that he kept his daughter imprisoned as a sex slave for 24 years and fathered her children, has pleaded guilty to rape and incest but not to murder.
Fritzl is charged with one count of murder following the death of one of the children he kept hidden with his daughter in a cellar prison under the family home.
Prosecutors claim that the child might have survived if taken to a doctor in time. The boy had developed breathing difficulties and actually turned blue, but Fritzl refused to seek help, allegedly commenting, “Whatever happens, happens.”
Klaus Schwaighofer, head of the criminal law institute at the University of Innsbruck, told reporters, “I consider a murder conviction rather unlikely.” Too much time has passed and the prosecution lacks forensic evidence, he explains. The charge is based on Elizabeth’s word alone, as Fritzl allegedly incinerated the child’s body and scattered the ashes in the garden.
Fritzl is also charged with coercion, false imprisonment and enslavement.
Schwaighofer thinks the case for enslavement may also be difficult to prove as its legal definition mostly refers to the exploitation of labour. Viennese lawyer Dr Raoul Wagner agrees: “The slavery charge has never been used since it was put on the books; he did not buy or sell his daughter in the slave trade and the charges do not apply.”
Dr Wagner also thinks that the charges overall have “little chance of working to keep Fritzl in jail for life.”
He faults the Austrian legal system for this lack of sufficient justice: “As sentences for incest and rape run concurrently, the most he would face would be for rape, which means seven-and-a-half-years with [time cut for] good behaviour. With the year spent inside, he could be released in six and-a-half years.
“In a case like this the Austrian legal system is a nonsense. In America, for 3,000 rapes [the number Fritzl allegedly committed] a person would face 30,000 years in jail.”