Norway’s home-grown confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik knew what he was doing when he killed 77 persons in and around Oslo on July 22 last year, the city court in Oslo ruled on Friday. The court, finding Breivik sane at the time of his murderous rampage, sentenced him to Norway’s longest prison term of 21 years, with a provision that can allow him to be held in custody for the rest of his life.
Breivik had delivered a Nazi-style salute to the packed courtroom as soon as his handcuffs were off, and before the oral presentation of the court’s verdict began. He smiled as Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen read the conclusion of the court’s verdict first, before launching into the lengthy reading of the 90-page verdict that lays out the basis for the decision. The entire legal process, expected to go on for hours, was being aired live nationwide.
The much-anticipated ruling, handed down by the court’s five-member judicial panel Friday morning, was in line with the stated wishes of many of Breivik’s victims’ families, survivors of his attacks and Breivik himself. They had objected strenuously to an initial court-appointed psychiatrists’ report that found Breivik to be psychotic and delusional when he bombed Norway’s government headquarter and then gunned down scores of people at a Labour Party summer camp on the island of Utøya.
The ruling ran against the wishes of state prosecutors, though, who felt there was too much doubt regarding the defendant’s sanity. They ended up being faced with two court-appointed psychiatric reports, the first finding Breivik utilregnelig (unaccountable for his actions based on insanity) and a second finding him tilregnelig (sane, accountable and thus able to be sentenced to jail instead of being committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment).
Unclear whether there will be any appeal
Breivik has repeatedly stated he would not appeal a sanity ruling that sentenced him to jail, because he wants to be taken seriously and not written off as mentally ill. Prosecutors Svein Holden and Inga Bejer Engh have not commented on whether they would appeal a ruling against them. Several victims’ representatives and even a prominent law professor at the University of Oslo were urging them not to appeal on Friday morning, to spare the nation from the additional trauma of a new trial.
The five members of the court’s judicial panel, led by Judge Arntzen, based their ruling on evidence presented throughout Breivik’s 10-week trial last spring. He had confessed to actually carrying out the attacks immediately after his arrest, leaving the judges to decide how the state should react.
The judges could draw from an unusually large amount of evidence including the psychiatric reports, detailed and chilling testimony from survivors who witnessed Breivik’s mass-murder spree, a long list of experts on terrorism, documentation of the planning Breivik put into his attacks, the testimony of Breivik and, not least, panel members’ own observations of him and how he behaved in court every day for the entire 10 weeks of his trial. Their unanimous verdict shows that they didn’t share the prosecutor’s doubts, and found Breivik capable of being held criminally accountable for his actions.
21 years plus possible five-year extensions
That leaves him facing at least the next 10 years in prison, when he’ll be able to mount his first request for early release. Norway’s legal system is based on a strong tradition of belief in rehabilitation and the return of criminals to society, but the country has never encountered a murderer like Breivik. It’s highly unlikely any request for early release from his 21-year sentence will be granted, even though precedence allows release of many criminals after serving just two-thirds of their terms.
The additional criminal sentence of forvaring (protective custody) tacked on to Breivik’s 21-year term means he’ll be subject to a court evaluation of the danger he poses to society every five years. Breivik has never expressed regret and testified that he’d carry out attacks again. If he maintains that position and is thus still deemed dangerous 21 years from now, he can be sentenced to another five years in prison, and be subject to such five-year extensions for the rest of his life or at least until he’s considered to no longer be dangerous.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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