A woman who stuffed two of her infants into a freezer and entombed two more in concrete-filled buckets was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison Friday, closing out a macabre case that stunned this usually tranquil alpine nation.
A court in the southern city of Graz, where the four tiny bodies were discovered in rapid succession last summer, convicted Gertraud Arzberger, 33, of three counts of murder. Her long-term partner was sentenced to 15 years as an accessory.
Arzberger had been tried on five counts but had pleaded guilty to killing only four of her babies, and experts said they could not rule out that one might have been stillborn.
"I'm sorry. I can't make everything all right again," Arzberger said before the verdicts were read out.
Her live-in companion, Johannes Genser, 39, had proclaimed his innocence and insisted he never noticed Arzberger was pregnant. Neighbors, however, had testified that her swollen belly was obvious, and prosecutors said it was implausible to believe he did not know she was carrying the children.
The two were charged in June after police found the bodies of two newborns in a basement freezer shared by residents of an apartment complex in Graz, about 120 miles south of Vienna, and the remains of two more entombed in paint buckets filled with concrete.
Autopsies indicated the two infants found in the freezer were still alive when put inside, wrapped in plastic bags. Tests could not be performed on the two newborns whose remains were sealed in concrete because they had deteriorated too much.
Prosecutors had charged the woman with killing five infants, based on testimony from neighbors who said they saw five pregnancies. But a fifth body was never found, and Arzberger denied ever having a fifth child.
Before the jury returned the verdicts, state attorney Johannes Winklhofer urged the court to deliver a stiff sentence.
"She is a murderer. She killed four babies in a brutal and gruesome fashion," Winklhofer said.
Her partner, he said, "knew everything ... she could not hide her condition from the neighbors, and certainly not from her friend."
Austria has no death penalty, and the minimum sentence for homicide is 10 years.
Multiple homicides are rare in Austria, where the case held many spellbound for months.
The story broke when a neighbor living in the apartment block went down to the basement to get some ice cream for his children and found two of the tiny bodies beneath frozen meat and vegetables while he was rummaging through the freezer.
Police sniffer dogs found the others in the concrete-filled pails, which were hidden beneath debris piled up inside a garden shed on the property.
Neighbors had described Arzberger, a bookkeeper, as a hard worker who kept a tidy house and a beautiful yard in front of her apartment.
Prosecutors said Arzberger told investigators she killed the infants out of despair over her inability to pay the bills, and out of fear that having children might drive away Genser, a carpenter and her partner of eight years.
Genser's lawyer, Kurt Klein, insisted in closing arguments Friday that the charges were "pure fiction." Prosecutors said DNA tests showed that Genser had fathered at least three of the four infants.