The judicial panel that unanimously decided to send one of the world’s worst mass murderers to jail on Friday was being widely credited in Norway for helping to bring a national nightmare to an end. They were led by Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen, who spearheaded such a thorough and clear verdict in the case against Anders Behring Breivik that it’s not being appealed.
Arntzen also let Breivik know who was boss in the courtroom. At the end of a long and intense day in court, during which she and colleague Arne Lyng took turns reading their panel’s entire 90-page verdict, she ended up in an unpleasant exchange with the man who killed 77 persons on July 22 last year.
It started when Arntzen, addressing the confessed terrorist simply as “Breivik” as she always has, told him he had three choices: He could appeal his sentence of 21 years in prison plus likely extensions that can keep him jailed for life, he could take 14 days to decide whether to appeal, or he could accept his sentence.
Breivik replied that because he doesn’t recognize the Norwegian court judging him “because it has its mandate from political parties that support multi-culturalism,” he could neither accept, consider or reject its sentence. Then he said he wanted to apologize, not to his victims but to “all radical militants” like himself, but Arntzen cut off his microphone and sternly told him that the only person he was allowed to address in the courtroom was herself. She ordered his attorney to clarify what Breivik wanted to do, and after a heated exchange, Lippestad said his client wouldn’t appeal. Because he refused to officially accept his sentence, though, Lippestad conceded that technically his client still has 14 days to change his mind and appeal, but he was confident Breivik wouldn’t do so.
That presumably concludes his 10-week trial and eliminates further court action, since prosecutors decided to drop an appeal as well. While they had agreed with the court on matters of law and Breivik’s guilt in carrying out the attacks, they had thought there was too much doubt about his mental health to sentence him to prison. They wanted him declared insane and committed to psychiatric care, which Breivik had earlier called “a fate worse than death.” He actually wants to be held accountable for his crimes, be taken seriously as a right-wing extremist terrorist and go to jail.
The court stressed that its ruling declaring Breivik sane was in no way tied to Breivik’s wishes but rather the overwhelming body of evidence received during his trial. They pointed to how carefully Breivik had planned his attacks, how he had acted alone and kept his plans secret, how he’d moderated some of his positions instead of insisting he was always right, that he was highly functional and not, in their opinion, psychotic. Delusions cited by two court-appointed psychiatrists were rejected by two other psychiatrists, and the judges claimed they rather were extremist viewpoints common among subcultures.
Most importantly, Arntzen stressed that the court-appointed psychiatrists hadn’t paid sufficient attention to Breivik’s “political motives.” It was his ultra right-wing, anti-immigrant politics that motivated his violence, the judges ruled, not insanity. More than a dozen other health care workers, psychologists and Breivik’s own family members had rejected insanity as well.
The judges so thoroughly grounded all their conclusions in the evidence presented in court, law and legal precedent that law professors and several high-profile attorneys in Oslo had started commenting early in the day that there was little basis for an appeal. Prosecutor Svein Holden suddenly got busy on his mobile phone and it turned out he was talking to his boss, Director General of Public Prosecutions Tor Aksel Busch. Within a half-hour of the court’s adjournment, they capitulated, announcing they would not appeal either, not least out of consideration for the survivors of Breivik’s attacks and victims’ families. Breivik wasn’t appealing himself, and they didn’t want to be the ones to drag the country through another long appeals trial.
Lyng said that even at the end of Breivik’s 21-year term, he’s still likely to be “a very dangerous man,” hence the need to have the ability to keep him locked up to protect the public.
Most Norwegians now hope Breivik will be securely locked away so they can ignore him after all the trouble and indescribable heartache he’s caused during the past year. Friday’s verdict was dubbed “historic” by Norwegian media commentators, and already is setting off a new debate over the relative mildness of Norwegian criminal punishment and the use of psychiatry in the courtroom.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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