Josef Fritzl, the Austrian who raped and incarcerated his daughter in a purpose-built prison beneath his home for 24 years, will be transferred to a regular prison from a prison psychiatric unit, his lawyer has said – paving the way for his release to a nursing home.
Earlier this month his lawyer, Astrid Wagner, announced he was applying for early release from jail on the grounds of old age and dementia.
Fritzl, 88, was reportedly close to tears on hearing the decision by a panel of three female judges at Krems regional court.
However, they said the decision was not yet final and requires a further decision to be made by public prosecutors, although this is now thought to be a formality. If it is confirmed he could be moved to a nursing home.
He was pictured for the first time in 15 years on Thursday morning being driven to court, seatbelted in the back of a car and wearing a denim jacket.
Outside the court, Wagner said: “We were successful. It was a long hearing. He said once again how he regrets what he did. He was actually close to tears. In summary, the court came to the conclusion that my client is no longer considered to be dangerous.”
The electrical engineer was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009 for the rape, incest and incarceration of his daughter, Elisabeth, and the seven children she had with him, one of whom was deemed by the court to have been killed by Fritzl, after he failed to get medical help for the child.
Wagner said earlier this month that a recent psychiatric report on Fritzl ruled he no longer posed a threat to society. A court could decide to move him to a normal prison. But Wagner said Fritzl, who has dementia, should be allowed to spend his remaining days in a care home. She said she had applied for his conditional discharge.
The case came to light in 2008, when Elisabeth managed to communicate with the police that he was holding her captive. Then 42, she said she had been held underground for 24 years and that previous to that, he had abused her from the age of 11.
Fritzl lured her into the cellar, built in the style of a cold war bunker sometimes found in Austrian homes, when she was 18. He told his wife and family acquaintances that she had run away to join a cult.
His crimes were first revealed when a child of Elisabeth’s became critically ill and he took them to hospital, where authorities appealed for their mother to come forward. He released her from the bunker to present herself to them and she managed to communicate her situation to authorities.
Fritzl is being held in a high-security unit for mentally disturbed patients in Stein prison in Krems, north-east Austria, not far from his former home in Amstetten.
Under Austrian law, prisoners are potentially eligible for conditional release after 15 years – in Fritzl’s case this would be 2023.
The Austrian psychiatrist Heidi Kastner, who in 2009 described Fritzl as “extremely psychologically abnormal” and “emotionally illiterate”, has come to the conclusion in a 28-page report that he is no longer dangerous. She described him as suffering from dementia, physically frail and in need of a walking frame to move about.
Wagner, who has visited Fritzl in prison 40 times, and in 2022 wrote a book about him called The Abysses of Josef F, said that based on the report she considered it legitimate to allow his release. “I would not be frightened of moving in with him in a flatshare arrangement, or to live alongside him in a care home. He no longer possesses a sex drive,” she said.
In an interview with the German tabloid Bild, she described how he spent his days watching television in his cell, sunning himself through the bars of his window, and exercising.