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17.03.2009 International

Fritzl's face is caught on camera


The trial of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man charged with crimes against the children he kept and abused for years in a cellar, has resumed in St Poelten.

For a second day, the 73-year-old entered court with his face obscured from view behind a blue folder.

But a picture later emerged of Mr Fritzl, surrounded by security staff on his way into court.

The jury is to hear more videotaped evidence from his daughter, who was allegedly locked up for 24 years.

Mr Fritzl has pleaded guilty to incest and "partially" guilty to rape but not guilty to enslavement or murder.

The trial is being held behind closed doors because of the sensitivity of the testimony.

A verdict is expected as early as Thursday, says the BBC's Bethany Bell in St Poelten.

Mr Fritzl is alleged in 1984 to have lured his daughter into a cellar with windowless soundproofed chambers beneath their house, to have imprisoned her there and raped her repeatedly over a number of years.

Defence lawyer Rudolf Mayer argued on the first day that his client was "a human being not a monster" and he appealed to jurors to be objective.

He added that his client was hiding his face from the media because he was embarrassed.

Despite his efforts to conceal himself, however, a photographer captured his image on Tuesday morning. He was clearly recognisable as the man in the mugshot photograph released by police after his arrest last April.

He had the same grey hair and moustache, and the same grey stubble on his chin. He wore a grey suit, a dark grey or black shirt and a dark tie with blue stripes.

Hard to prove?
On the trial's opening day, the court began viewing 11 hours of video, with the rest of the material to be shown in segments during the week.

The daughter and three of her seven children fathered by Mr Fritzl were kept captive in the cellar until the case came to light in April last year, when one of the children became seriously ill and was taken to hospital.

Mr Fritzl is accused of murdering one of the newborn twin boys his daughter gave birth to in 1996, having failed to arrange medical care for the ailing infant.

Some legal experts have said it may be hard to prove the murder charge but the charge of enslavement carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, and some of the other charges carry a sentence of up to 15 years.

'Normal behaviour'
Court spokesman Franz Cutka said the first day's proceedings had included "an interrogation of the accused", and the video recording by Mr Fritzl's daughter, about which he was then questioned.

But he stressed that due to the sensitivity of the trial, no details of the proceedings could be released.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser said Mr Fritzl had shown "no sign of regret or any consciousness of wrongdoing".

She alleged that he had not spoken to his daughter for the first years of her captivity, descending to the cellar only to rape her before returning upstairs.

Mr Fritzl, said the prosecutor, treated his daughter like his own property, sometimes raping her in front of their children in the cellar.

The defendant himself, his voice almost inaudible, talked to the judge about his childhood, saying he had been beaten by his mother.

Asked if he had any friends, he simply replied "No".