Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl has not only issued an unconditional apology on behalf of the state to Viggo Kristiansen, who spent more than 20 years in prison after being wrongly convicted for the rapes and murders of two young girls at Baneheia in Kristiansand in May 2000. Mehl also fully expects to receive a large compensation claim for the injustice Kristiansen suffered, and wants the state to pay it swiftly.
“I think it’s natural that he receive compensation as quickly as possible,” Mehl told state broadcaster NRK on Friday, after a court in Oslo formally cleared Kristiansen the day before. She has also called the case against Kristiansen “the biggest legal scandal in Norwegian history.”
Kristiansen, now age 43, spent more than half his life in prison for crimes he did not commit while still a young man and living in his parents’ home. Now he’s a free man, but his defense lawyers stress how he was also robbed of the chance to have a career, buy a home, marry or start a family. He now faces starting his life over, and “complex calculations” will be made to determine how much compensation he’ll claim for 22 years of lost income and freedom.
Mehl declined to speculate on a sum, but acknowledged “it will be large, that’s for certain.” Lawyers predict at least NOK 30 million (USD 3 million).
The justice minister also delivered an emotional statement on behalf of the government Thursday evening: “Viggo, I want to say we’re sorry for the injustice you had to tolerate. You had tried to speak up, you have claimed your innocence, but you were not heard.” Mehl, a lawyer herself, also stated that it was “difficult” to even imagine what Kristiansen’s life has been like, or what it was like “to experience and endure criminal prosecution.” He was only recently released from prison when new DNA evidence could prove he was not at the scene of the crimes. A former friend who also was convicted and had implicated Kristiansen now appears to have acted alone, although a new indictment and court case are pending.
Mehl said it’s also difficult to comprehend “how terrible this must have been,” and that “it’s only right the government apologize. On a day like this (just after the court had formally cleared him) I’m thinking first and foremost about Viggo Kristiansen and his closest family for the injustice against him.”
Kristiansen, who made only a brief appearance in court himself and refused to be photographed, issued a written statement real aloud by one of his defense attorneys. In it he claimed that the pain and sorrow of the familes of the two girls murdered 22 years ago “has been much worse than my 21 years in jail.” He stated that he understood how difficult it also has been for them that his case finally was brought up again, “but I couldn’t live with the wrong verdict.”
Both prosecutors and the defense attorneys expressed relief that justice prevailed in the end, but at a tremendous cost. Mehl has also ordered a “full and thorough” external investigation into how such a travesty of justice could occur in a country otherwise known for a strong legal system. “We must learn from our mistakes,” Mehl said. “We want to find the reason why Viggo Kristiansen was wrongly convicted.”
Defense attorney Arvid Sjødin, who has represented Kristiansen for years, told NRK that Kristiansen “was very grateful” for Mehl’s apology, delivered live on national TV, and for her personal approach. “It’s very important,” Sjødin said, and his co-counsel Bjørn Andre Gulstad agreed.
“An apology like this has great significance for my client and his family,” Gulstad told NRK, “and it symbolizes that the legal system takes this seriously. That makes me think something good can come out of this case after all.”