From the New York Times article by Mark Lander, Austria’s Dungeon Man: ‘I Must Have Been Crazy’:
FRANKFURT — Josef Fritzl, the 73-year-old Austrian who imprisoned and raped his daughter for nearly a quarter century, said he knew his actions were wrong. But he denied that he was a “beast,” and he said that he thought constantly about freeing her from the underground vault where she was locked up, along with three of her seven children, whom he had fathered.
In his first public comments since being arrested last month — relayed by his lawyer and published in an Austrian magazine on Thursday — Mr. Fritzl offered a defense, by turns lurid and banal, of the indefensible. He also appeared to be laying the groundwork for a legal defense based on his mental state.
“I constantly knew, during the entire 24 years, that what I did was not right, that I must have been crazy to do something like this,” the magazine quoted Mr. Fritzl as saying to his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer. “With each week that I held my daughter captive,” he said, “my situation got crazier.”
“I must have been crazy to do something like this.”
Mr Lander gets it exactly right when he calls it a “defense [...] of the indefensible.” Yes, of course Herr Fritzl is crazy. Sane people don’t do this sort of thing. Sane people don’t lock people in the cellar and rape them, not for 24 hours, and certainly not for 24 years. The man is absolutely, completely criminally insane.
It bothers me that we (at least in the U.S.; I don’t know how they consider it in Austria) talk about people’s “innocence” because of insanity, the “insanity defense”. They’re not innocent; they’re guilty. It shouldn’t be a defense; it should be a mitigating factor in how we treat their guilt, in the punishment they get, or don’t get.
“Guilty, but insane,” covers it.
And then it remains to decide to what extent we want that insanity to affect his punishment. It’s very hard for me to step back on this one, and not want to have him sentenced very harshly. The sorts of punishments from Greek mythology come to mind: chain him to a rock and have wild animals claw his genitals off, to have them magically grow back and be clawed again.
It’s hard for me to accept that incarceration in a mental health facility is appropriate — is enough.
Mr. Mayer asked Mr. Fritzl if he wanted to die. “No,” he said, “all I want to do now is repent.”I don’t know how his daughter feels, but I can’t imagine that repentence is possible.