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Could Austria's notorious incest rapist Josef Fritzl one day be released?

AFP
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Could Austria's notorious incest rapist Josef Fritzl one day be released?
Austrian Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter in a cellar for over 24 years and fathered seven children with her, is escorted back to a prison after his hearing at the regional court in Krems an der Donau, Austria on January 25, 2024. (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP)

An Austrian court on Thursday approved the transfer of Josef Fritzl -- an incest rapist who fathered seven children with his daughter he locked in a cellar for over 24 years -- to a regular jail. His lawyer said it was the first step to being released.

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Fritzl, 88, was "very moved" by the court decision and was planning to apply for a full release next year, his lawyer Astrid Wagner said.

Fritzl was jailed for life in 2009 for the murder by neglect of a newborn baby he fathered with his daughter Elisabeth while holding her in the specially-built basement of his house.

He was also found guilty of incest, sequestration, grievous assault and 3,000 instances of rape.

Fritzl has been held in a jail for the mentally ill who pose a high degree of danger in Krems, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of Vienna.

The Krems regional court approved Fritzl's application to be moved to a regular jail -- the first step to eventually seeking a release, according to Wagner.

"The court came to the conclusion that he is no longer dangerous" based on a new psychiatric report, Wagner told reporters outside the court.

"He is now to be transferred to a regular prison, but must undergo regular psychiatric examinations," she said, adding that Fritzl was "very moved" by the decision.

'First step' to release

Calling Thursday's ruling "an important first step", she said she planned to apply for Fritzl's release next year. Wagner cited his frail health, an onset of dementia and said that he had already served the minimum 15 years in jail necessary for life-long convictions.

A court spokesman confirmed the verdict, which can still be appealed by prosecutors. The court heard the case of Fritzl -- one of Austria's most notorious criminals, who has since changed his name -- behind closed doors, with a throng of media gathered outside the building.

Fritzl was brought to the court in a police van that entered a garage at the back and was led inside without being visible to the public.

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A retired electrical engineer, Fritzl locked his daughter in the family's cellar in 1984, when she was 18 years old. While claiming she had run away from home, Fritzl kept her in the basement in Amstetten, west of Vienna, until 2008, raping her repeatedly, which resulted in the birth of seven children. One died aged just a few days.

The case came to light when one of the surviving children became ill and had to be hospitalised.

His neighbours and his wife Rosemarie and children living upstairs with him, said they had no inkling of Fritzl's double life and the unimaginable horrors that played out in the warren of windowless, soundproofed rooms beneath their home.

Elisabeth and her surviving children have taken on new identities and moved to an undisclosed location. Wagner insisted Thursday that Fritzl was "deeply remorseful" for what he has done.

"He thinks about what he did day and night," she said.

If he is released in 2025, he would've served seven years less than his daughter Elizabeth spent in his basement dungeon.

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