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Norwegian court gets to heart of Breivik trial: Is he sane?

With the beginning of testimony by a slew of psychiatrists, Norway's trial of Anders Behring Breivik has reached its crux – determining whether he was sane when he killed 77 people last summer.

By Correspondent / June 8, 2012

Anders Behring Breivik is pictured at a Norwegian court in Oslo, Friday, June 8.

Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix/Reuters



Eight weeks into the trial against Anders Behring Breivik, the case has finally turned to the key unanswered question about the Norwegian man who has admitted to killing 77 last summer in twin terror attacks: Was he sane when he did it?

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The court heard testimony today from the first of 17 psychiatric experts scheduled to appear in court over the next two weeks to help the court make that contentious determination. Experts sharply disagree on his diagnosis, which will have a major impact on the severity of his sentence.

Two conflicting psychiatric reports have been presented in the trial. The first, in November, found Breivik to be a paranoid schizophrenic and hence criminally not punishable for the killings, while the second, in April, found that Breivik had personality disorders, but no signs of psychosis. 

The psychiatrist who went on the stand today testified that, in his opinion, Mr. Breivik was not psychotic when he placed a car bomb outside Oslo government buildings and then went on a shooting rampage at the Labor party's youth summer camp at Utøya island last July.

IN PICTURES – Norway vs. Breivik

Ulrik Fredrik Malt, professor in psychiatry at the University of Oslo, said that after observing Breivik in court for seven days and reading both forensic reports, it was his “academic opinion” that Breivik possibly suffered from narcissistic personality disorders – as the second report found – and possibly Aspergers or Tourette syndrome.

However, although he could not rule paranoid schizophrenia out entirely, there was a “less than 25 percent” chance that Breivik fit the criteria, Mr. Malt said.

“The first thing I saw when I came into court the first day was not a monster, but a deeply lonely man,” he said. “This is a tragedy for Norway and for us, but also a tragedy for Breivik,” he added.

Malt concluded that Breivik might be suffering from Asperger syndrome, a form of autism in which an otherwise normal person has problems understanding social signals and lacks empathy. He said it was possibly present at an early age, visible from Breivik's inability to form long-standing relations, a period of social isolation after 2006 when he moved back in with his mother and started intensively playing the online game World of Warcraft, and his tendency to repeat things.

Malt also presented the possibility that Breivik had the neurological disorder Tourette syndrome, which causes physical and verbal tics, as proven by his bizarre eye and mouth movements, obsession with numbers, and the “machine-like” way he gunned down the youth on Utøya island and later recounted it as “like cherry picking.” As evidenced by his 1,000-page-plus manifesto, Breivik might also suffer from hypergraphia, an overwhelming urge to write that is an occasional symptom of Tourette syndrome, Malt said. 


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