Austrian incest suspect freed; testimony changes

VIENNA (AP) — An 80-year-old Austrian man held for around two weeks on suspicion that he regularly raped his daughters for 41 years was freed Friday after the two women changed their story, prosecutors said.

Until Friday’s stunning development, the case was described as having parallels to that of Josef Fritzl, another Austrian serving a life sentence for fathering seven children with his daughter in a windowless cellar.

Any similarities appeared to be rapidly dissolving, however.

The women in the latest case still say they were sexually molested but were now blaming another man — not their father — for the alleged assaults, which they say happened some time in the past, said the state prosecutor’s office.

That version is now being checked, a prosecutor’s statement from the Upper Austrian city of Ried said. Now 53 and 45 years old, the women have been described by officials as having mental disabilities — one to a slight degree, the other more severely affected.

In the Fritzl case, the Austrian imprisoned his daughter for 24 years and repeatedly raped her, fathering her seven children. Fritzl was sentenced to life imprisonment two years ago for that crime and for responsibility in the death of one of the children.

No one had been charged in the latest case, however. The man was detained Aug. 25 pending investigations by state prosecutors after local police had questioned the women and said their testimony was believable.

The two had accused their father of repeatedly raping them at their home between 1970 and May 2011. They said he warned he would kill them if they resisted, occasionally threatening them with firearms and beating them with a stick and a pitchfork, police said.

But subsequent questioning weakened the case. On Friday, prosecutor Ernestine Heger said it became unclear whether the two women understood the nature of their accusations. She said they continued to claim they were sexually molested, but insisted it was not their father who was responsible but another perpetrator.

Austria Press Agency cited Josef Wimmer, the lawyer of the 80-year-old, as saying the women did not comprehend what they were accusing their father of doing.

“They understand rape as being tied to a bed or being pushed out of a bed,” he told APA, while they consider someone running around naked as performing a sexual act. “They say ‘Papa did not do this with us,’” but a stranger did, the lawyer said.

Officials said they are still investigating the allegations of beatings and threats.

The lawyer cited the two women as saying “Papa did beat us but not since our mother died,” three years ago. He said any threats uttered by his client were not to be taken seriously, describing them as general expressions of anger and frustration.

The man — from the Upper Austrian village of St. Peter am Hart — had faced potential charges of assault, torture or neglect of defenseless individuals, threat to life or physical condition, rape and other sex crimes.

The women initially told police that they escaped when their father fell and was unable to get up after the older daughter pushed him during the last attempted rape.

Police and local media originally said the suspect had allegedly kept the victims locked in a tiny room of their home for 41 years, but later revised that version, suggesting they had limited freedom of movement, even though all three slept in one small room.

With the allegations appearing increasingly flimsy, local police are likely to come under scrutiny for their handling of the case.

Regional police commander Martin Pumberger had described the women’s accusations as “believable” and the prosecutor’s office became involved after a police investigations recommended further follow-up.

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