Austrian court defers ruling on rapist Fritzl's move to regular prison

The house of Austrian prisoner Fritzl is pictured in Amstetten

By Francois Murphy

KREMS AN DER DONAU, Austria (Reuters) -A court on Tuesday deferred until next week a ruling on whether Austria's most infamous living criminal, 89-year-old incestuous rapist Josef Fritzl, could be transferred to regular prison from a prison psychiatric unit.

A transfer could eventually pave the way for his conditional release from prison altogether, and his lawyer Astrid Wagner said she would apply for such a release if he is transferred.

Fritzl, who has now changed his name, raped his daughter as he held her captive for 24 years, fathering her seven children in a dungeon he built under his home.

"The panel of judges decided to issue a written ruling," Wagner told reporters on leaving a hearing in the prison where Fritzl is being held. A court spokesman confirmed a written ruling would be issued early next week.

A psychiatric expert's findings commissioned by the court showed "Mr Fritzl no longer poses a danger that requires being committed and the only conclusion that can be drawn is that My Fritzl will be released from psychiatric custody", Wagner said.

The case attracted worldwide attention when it came to light in 2008.

He has been in a prison for "mentally abnormal" inmates since his conviction in 2009 for incest, rape, enslavement, coercion and the murder, by neglect, of his newborn son in a dungeon he secretly built under his home.

At a hearing in a courthouse in the same town of Krems an der Donau near Vienna in January, the court allowed Fritzl's transfer, only for a higher court to overturn that decision in March, ruling that "the facts necessary for such a conditional release had not yet fully been established".

It sent the case back to the first court, ordering it to gain a fuller picture of Fritzl's suitability for a transfer.

Fritzl was sentenced to life in a prison psychiatric unit 15 years ago, in March 2009, with a reassessment of his condition due 15 years later.

Wagner has repeatedly said Fritzl expresses deep regret for what he did. She said on Tuesday he was "relieved" at the evidence presented.

"I believe he will be released from custody altogether in the foreseeable future," Wagner said, adding that if he is transferred she would "definitely" apply for his release from prison "within a year".

Whether and in what circumstances that could happen remains to be seen. Fritzl, nicknamed the "Monster of Amstetten" after the town he lived in, has become a byword for evil in Austria and around the world.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Angus MacSwan)