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Austria braces for Fritzl incest trial

  • Story Highlights
  • Josef Fritzl accused of keeping daughter captive for decades, on trial March 16
  • Fritzl faces murder charge as one of 7 children he fathered by daughter died
  • Other charges include incest, rape, assault and involvement in slave trade
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(CNN) -- Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man accused of keeping his daughter in a cellar for decades and fathering her seven children, will go on trial March 16 on six charges including murder and incest.

Josef Fritzl admitted fathering seven children by his daughter during her 24-year captivity.

Josef Fritzl admitted fathering seven children by his daughter during her 24-year captivity.

The Austrian Press Agency reported Thursday the trial was expected to last about five days and be held behind closed doors. Further details about the case would be announced Friday, it said.

Fritzl, 73, was charged in November with incest and the repeated rape of his daughter, Elisabeth, for 24 years.

But he was also charged with the murder of one of the children he fathered with her, an infant who died soon after birth. State Prosecutor Gerhard Sedlacek said Michael Fritzl died from lack of medical care.

In all, Fritzl faces six charges at trial: murder, involvement in slave trade (slavery), rape, incest, assault, and deprivation of liberty, Sedlacek's office said. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

The case first came to light in April 2008 when Elisabeth's then-19-year-old daughter, Kerstin, became seriously ill with convulsions. Elisabeth persuaded her father to allow Kerstin to be taken to a hospital for treatment.

Hospital staff became suspicious of the case and alerted police, who discovered the family members in the cellar.

Fritzl confessed to police that he raped his daughter, kept her and their children in captivity, and burned the body of the dead infant in an oven in the house. Elisabeth told police the infant was one of twins who died a few days after birth.

When Elisabeth gained her freedom, she told police her father began sexually abusing her at age 11. On August 8, 1984, her father enticed her into the basement, where he drugged her, put her in handcuffs and locked her in a room, she told police.

Fritzl explained Elisabeth's disappearance in 1984 by saying the 18-year-old girl had run away from home. He backed up the story with letters he forced Elisabeth to write.

Elisabeth Fritzl and all but three of her children lived in the specially designed cellar beneath her father's home in Amstetten, Austria, west of Vienna. The other three children lived upstairs with Fritzl and his wife; Fritzl had left them on his own doorstep, pretending his "missing" daughter Elisabeth had dropped them off.

Under Austrian law, if Fritzl is convicted on several offenses, he will be given the sentence linked to the worst crime. In addition to murder, he will face the following charges:

  • Murder: The infant who died in 1996 died from a lack of medical care, the state prosecutor said. The charges he faces are:
  • Involvement in slave trade: From 1984 until 2008, Fritzl held his daughter, Elisabeth, captive in a dungeon, abused her sexually and treated her as if she were his personal property -- in a situation similar to slavery. If convicted, the sentence could range from 10 to 20 years in prison.
  • Rape: Between August 30, 1984, and June 30, 1989, Fritzl "regularly sexually abused Elisabeth," according to the prosecutor. The sentence could be from five to 15 years in prison.
  • Incest: Parallel to the rape charge. It carries a sentence of up to one year.
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  • Withdrawal of liberty: Three of the children Fritzl had with Elisabeth were illegally held captive in a dungeon with no daylight and fresh air. That charge carries a sentence of one to 10 years.
  • Assault: Between August 28, 1984, and April 26, 2006, Fritzl repeatedly threatened Elisabeth and their three children with gas and booby traps as warnings in case they tried to escape. The sentence would range from six months to five years.
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