VIENNA, Austria – The man accused of imprisoning his daughter in a dungeon for 24 years and fathering seven children with her met for the first time with a prosecutor Wednesday and agreed to further questioning, an official said.
Fritzl's lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said his client had access to a television in jail and was closely watching coverage of his case, which has garnered worldwide attention.
Mayer made his comments when asked to confirm a report Wednesday by the newspaper Oesterreich that quoted Fritzl as saying he was not a monster and that without him, the 19-year-old would no longer be alive.
Fritzl was bothered by the fact that he was being made out to be a monster. He said Fritzl told him: "I'm only being portrayed as a monster and not as someone who committed monstrous acts... I could have killed all of them — then nothing would have happened. No one would have ever known about it."
Meanwhile, Austria's justice minister acknowledged that authorities may have been gullible in their handling of Josef Fritzl when he reported his daughter missing nearly a quarter of a century ago.
Fritzl and prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser talked for about two hours Wednesday but did not discuss the allegations against him — that he raped his daughter for years, imprisoned her in his cellar, and fathered her seven children, St. Poelten prosecution spokesman Gerhard Sedlacek said.
Fritzl did agree to provide further testimony, Sedlacek said, adding that no more questioning is expected in the next two weeks.
Authorities say Fritzl, 73, initially confessed to holding daughter Elisabeth, now 42, and some of their seven children captive in a reinforced basement.
But Fritzl, who has not yet been charged, has not elaborated on the earlier confession. Sedlacek said he provided the prosecutor Wednesday with details about his background, including his career.
The underground family came to light April 19 when Elisabeth's oldest child, a 19-year-old woman, was hospitalized with a severe infection in Amstetten, west of Vienna.
Doctors, unable to find medical records for the woman, appealed on TV for her mother to come forward. Fritzl then accompanied Elisabeth to the hospital on April 26.
He subsequently told police that he had fathered seven children with Elisabeth — three kept all their lives in the cellar; one adopted by him and his wife; two others raised in the couple's custody; and one who died as an infant.
In an interview with the newspaper Der Standard, published Wednesday, Justice Minister Maria Berger hinted at shortcomings by local authorities, saying they may have shown a certain "gullibility" in accepting Fritzl's claim, when Elisabeth first disappeared in 1984, that she had run away to join a cult.
"Today, one would certainly pursue this more precisely," Berger told the newspaper, adding that she planned to increase pre-adoption checks.
Authorities in Lower Austria province have maintained that they acted appropriately.
In Amstetten, specialists continued to sift through the Fritzl home for evidence.
Chief investigator Franz Polzer said in addition to the cellar, Fritzl had deemed several rooms of the vast house off limits to other people. These rooms are now being examined in detail, he said.
At some point, investigators are planning also to check the yard using sonar technology.
"We don't have any concrete reason to suspect there is anything else but we want to be absolutely sure," Polzer said, adding that investigators may also have detected additional, debris-filled spaces in the cellar.
In Vienna, Berger told parliament that what happened to the Amstetten victims "couldn't be made right" and stressed the need to better shield children from sex abuse.
Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer announced plans to tighten laws for sex offenders.
"We will boost prevention because it is most important that criminal offenses are averted," Gusenbauer said in a statement.
Fritzl reportedly was convicted of rape in 1967. On Wednesday, Gusenbauer said the federal government considered it "completely inconceivable" that a convicted sex offender was able to adopt a child, and that such individuals would be allowed to do jobs involving contact with children and adolescents.
A crowd of roughly 500 gathered in Amstetten's central square Wednesday evening to show their solidarity with the victims and express confidence in the future. They unrolled dozens of banners on which people had written encouraging messages and listened to speeches, such as one by local priest Peter Boesendorfer.
"May these banners remind us to work toward a better world," the Austria Press Agency quoted Boesendorfer as saying.