Fears mount for Fritzl's mental health

By Kate Connolly

Prison authorities in Austria have intensified their suicide watch over Josef Fritzl, fearing the convicted child killer and rapist will try to kill himself after receiving a life sentence for abusing his daughter for 24 years.

Erich Huber-Gunsthofer, the vice-president of the prison in St Poelten, where Fritzl will be held until his transfer to a psychiatric institution, said yesterday that the prisoner's mental health had deteriorated since the verdict last week in his trial for kidnapping, raping and incarcerating his daughter, and murdering one of the seven children she bore him.

Huber-Gunsthofer said a fellow prisoner had been assigned to watch over Fritzl, 73, and routine checks on his cell had been increased.

"We have established a close-knit surveillance network around Fritzl. But I cannot go into much detail because he reads the newspapers and we don't want him to know the details of what we're doing."

Fritzl's elderly cellmate has been told to observe him closely and to sound the alarm if there are any marked changes in his behaviour.

A psychiatrist assigned to Fritzl before the trial is also in daily contact with him.

Patrick Frottier, an expert on the suicidal behaviour of prisoners, in particular convicted sex offenders, kept a watchful eye on him throughout the trial, observing every gesture. He is now overseeing an intensive therapy programme with Fritzl.

Frottier was in court to witness the most dramatic point in the four-day trial, when Fritzl turned to see his daughter Elisabeth, flanked by two medical minders, sitting in the public gallery where she had slipped in to watch the in-camera proceedings.

Fritzl burst into tears, his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said, and later told Frottier that for the first time he realised the horror of what he had done.

"It's truly devastating what I saw there," he said of the 11 hours of testimony in which Elisabeth detailed her ordeal.

Huber-Guntshofer, who has described Fritzl as a "polite and gentlemanlike" model prisoner, said video surveillance would not be used because it would infringe his rights.

"If we were to watch him round the clock, that would show no regard for his human dignity. Fritzl may have a dark side, but at the end of the day he is still a human being."

Fritzl, who has been diagnosed with a severe personality disorder, is expected to be transferred to Wien-Mittersteig, a Viennese prison for mentally abnormal patients within the next four to six weeks.

Experts will assess the type of therapy he should undergo, according to the guidelines of the Austrian justice system, which aim to bring offenders back into society rather than just punish them.

Fritzl is then likely to be sent to Graz-Karlau Prison, which specialises in treating sex offenders, and undergo intensive therapy.

If experts deemed him to have been cured, Fritzl's sentence could be reviewed and he could be released after 15 years.

- OBSERVER

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