A Czech court Tuesday began untangling a bizarre child torture case that shocked the Czech Republic much the same as the Fritzl dungeon sex abuse case shook Austria.
The County Court in the city of Brno opened an expected six-week marathon of horrifying testimony by defendants, witnesses and experts.
It all came to light in early May 2007 when a new father in the Czech town of Kurim, 200 kilometres south-east of Prague, was tuning in his baby video monitor.
What he observed on his television screen left him dumbstruck. He saw a seven-year-old neighbour's son, Ondrej, lying naked and tied up in a dark closet in the house next door.
The police locked up Ondrej's 31-year-old mother Klara Mauerova and placed his older brother Jakub and stepsister Anicka in a children's home.
Anicka, a teddy-bear-clutching, shy 13-year-old, fled the care home. Before long Mauerova family acquaintances acknowledged that the girl is actually a 33-year-old woman, a music composer named Barbora Skrlova.
She emerged eight months later in Norway, where she had posed as another 13-year-old - this time as a Czech boy named Adam.
The court is now to make sense of the bewildering case that has horrified Czechs much as the Fritzl case in Austria where a father held his daughter in a dungeon and raped her shocked people there.
Six people, including the boy's mother and Skrlova, face between eight to 12 years in prison for allegedly torturing Ondrej and Jakub, now aged 8 and 10.
The defendants allegedly belonged to a sect led by Skrlova's father, earlier reports based on police sources said.
A state attorney told the court Tuesday that the boys were subjected to brutal physical and psychological torture for nearly a year.
The defendants were allegedly beating the brothers, locking them up in cages or even cutting them and burning them with cigarettes.
In the weeks preceding the trial both Mauerova and Skrlova began putting the blame on each other in media interviews.
The boys' mother said she was brainwashed into torturing her sons by a doctor who sent her instructions via cell phone text messages. The police later found that the phone number belonged to Mauerova's older sister Katerina, who had been Skrlova's roommate.
Mauerova also claimed that she had been duped into believing that Anicka was an abused orphan from Norway. She ended up caring for and adopting the bogus girl.
"Terrible things have happened. I realize it and can't understand how I could have allowed it," CTK news agency cited a crying Mauerova as saying before the court.
Skrlova, who claims innocence, said that she had been also tortured by the Mauerova sisters. "I think they wanted to ... sell me to evil men who do ugly things to children," Mlada Fronta Dnes daily cited her as saying earlier this year.
Which story the court finds more plausible should be clear in late July at the very earliest, reported dpa.