The much awaited trial of Josef Fritzl, the man accused of holding his daughter captive for 24 years and fathering seven children through her, commences in Austria today.
Rudolf Mayer, Fritzl's lawyer has indicated that his client will plead guilty to incest, rape, assault and false imprisonment, but will deny charges of slavery and murder. He said that Fritzl insists that he is not a sex monster and that he loved his daughter in his own way.
Apart from the incest and captivity, the 73-year-old Fritzl is also charged with 'murder by omission' of a twin boy who died in infancy. Under Austrian law, failure to care for a child who then dies can be punishable by life in prison. Fritzl is alleged to have burned the body in an incinerator.
The trial in the lower Austrian regional capital of Sankt Polten is scheduled to last just five days and go by a strict timetable.
The case has attracted such huge worldwide attention that several hundred journalists from more than 20 countries are expected to descend on the town over the weekend, even though the courtroom only has space for 98 reporters.
In any case, the media and the public will be banned from all but the very beginning and end of the trial.
The hundreds of journalists that have descended on Sankt Poelten from around the world will have access to a WiFi network around court and a sausage stand set up specially in the car park.
The prison where he is being held is connected to the court so there will be no possibility of a media scrum when he arrives.
Court officials say they will do everything to protect the privacy of Fritzl's daughter Elisabeth and the six surviving children she bore her father.
Court vice-president Franz Cutka said: "There are special security arrangements in place to the extent that we will have a large number of police officers in court.
"This is a court case and not a circus performance or a media event. It will be kept quiet in the court. We have even applied to have a no-fly zone over the court buildings."
They fear that an attempt on Fritzl's life could be made from the air as he is taken to and from the court each day, or even that he might attempt to hire an accomplice to help him escape by helicopter.
The main plank of the prosecution case will be an 11-hour pre-recorded video of Elisabeth cataloguing the relentless abuse which she was subjected to after being drugged and imprisoned in the cellar in August 1984.
The family, who have been moved to a different part of the country to begin new lives, will not be in court for the trial but will be under police guard.
The jury will instead hear 11 hours of videotaped interviews with Elisabeth in which she details those 24 years. Judges have ruled that because the evidence is so harrowing, jurors must spend no longer than two hours a day listening to it.
Neighbours of the Fritzls in the town of Amstetten look wearily at the returning camera crews and are reluctant to share their memories of Josef Fritzl, Sky News reported.
The "house of horrors" is alarmed to dissuade trophy hunters who want to take a piece of Fritzl history.
But the curious are in the minority, most people here just want to forget and move on.
"It will be good when the trial is over," said Patricia, a local resident who grew up in the town.
"My friend was at school with one of the Fritzl children. She found it really hard. It has been so sensationalised."
It is further reported that amidst all the hullabaloo, the central figure from his bizarre world will be missing: his wife, Rosemarie.
The woman who stood by him for years is not accused in Austria's trial of the decade, but one of the few people who still speak to her, her sister Christine Renner, says she is suffering for his crimes in her council flat, not far from the old family home in the town of Amstetten.
"My sister Rosemarie has really been destroyed by this whole business," Ms Renner said.
"As well as losing the children, everyone thinks she must have known something."
Detectives hastily declared that she did not after they interviewed her last April - as an astonished world learnt of Elisabeth, the daughter Fritzl abused, and the children he fathered with her who had emerged from a secret cellar in the suburban home.
Mrs Fritzl insisted she never had any idea of what had been going on under her feet for 24 years, yet her account of life with her husband implies an extraordinary degree of naivety on her part.
In 1984, when Elisabeth vanished, Fritzl told his wife that their daughter had run away to join a cult, she told detectives. His almost nightly absences in the cellar, where she was forbidden to go, were "engineering work", he told her.
And when her husband presented her with three babies to raise, he explained they had been dumped by the missing Elisabeth on a doorstep with a note, she told police. In fact they were the progeny who were too noisy to keep in the cellar.
Now she is divorcing her husband, but she stood by him in 1967, when he was jailed for raping a nurse at knifepoint, and she is alleged to have told police that her husband "sexually attacked" Elisabeth when she was 11.
Mrs Fritzl's sister has no doubts that she is a victim. "Apart from her family she has no one to support her," Ms Renner said. "She is physically and mentally at the end of her tether. The only thing that keeps her going is the thought of the children
There appears to have been a rapprochement of sorts between Elisabeth, 43, and her mother. The daughter takes her children to see their grandmother once a week, both the "downstairs" children, about whom Mrs Fritzl did not know, and the "upstairs" children, whom her husband had presented her with and who still regard her as their mother.
Ms Renner said the meetings with Mrs Fritzl were not always easy. "There is a lot of friction between her and Elisabeth. Of course they talk to each other about general things ... but neither of them can bring themselves to talk about that which is really at the centre of everything."
The children are said to have healed to some extent in the past year, especially Felix, 6, the youngest. It has been more difficult for the older downstairs children to adapt and reports have suggested it has been hard for the upstairs children to bond with their siblings in the reunited family.
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