In a historic and widely expected verdict, a Norwegian court has declared mass killer Anders Behring Breivik sane and guilty of murdering 77 people during the country’s worst peacetime tragedy.
Judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen sentenced the self-confessed gunman to the maximum punishment of 21 years of permanent detention, and a minimum of 10, for “terrorist acts” during a combined car-bomb attack on government buildings and shooting rampage at a political youth summer camp last year.
Judge Arntzen announced the “unanimous” decision of the five-judge panel just minutes after a neatly coiffed and well-dressed Mr. Breivik swaggered into court smiling broadly.
He remained unemotional as victims and their families sobbed in court and held hands as the details behind the 77 killings, most of whom were teenagers, were read aloud by the judges, who were also visibly moved by recounting once again the brutality of the unprecedented attacks.
The guilty verdict comes as welcome relief to victims and their families, who have been looking for closure 13 months after the tragic event. Breivik signaled as recently as last night that he would not appeal if found sane.
Svein Holden, Oslo public prosecutor, declined to comment during a short court break if he would appeal the verdict. The prosecution has argued that Breivik should be sent to compulsory mental healthcare because there was doubt over Breivik’s sanity.
Sanity has been at the core of this paradoxical case after two conflicting forensic psychiatric reports came to opposite conclusions. The first forensic psychiatrist team found the 33-year-old Norwegian was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, while the second concluded he was not psychotic.
The self-described “militant nationalist” had hoped to be found sane so that his political ideology could stand stronger. Breivik attacked the Labor-led government quarters last July with a homemade fertilizer car bomb, killing eight, and subsequently drove to the island of Utøya, where he killed 69 at a Labor party youth camp. He blames the ruling Labor party for the “ethnic cleansing of indigenous Norwegians” through multicultural policies that he says have allowed “Muslim colonization.”
Many Norwegians – including Breivik – had been expecting he would be found sane. A recent poll by Norwegian newspaper VG found that a strong majority of Norwegian forensic psychiatrists believed Breivik was mentally competent. In addition, victims and their families were hoping that he would be held accountable for the killings.
“This was the judgment I had hoped for,” Tore Sinding Bekkedal, an Utøya survivor, told Norwegian newswire NTB shortly after the verdict. She added Breivik suffered from “political madness,” but that he was not a psychiatric case.
Breivik is expected to announce his decision not to appeal after the verdict is fully read later today. He has indicated that he will most likely disregard his counsel’s advice to use the two-week waiting period to announce an eventual appeal, Breivik's lawyer, Geir Lippestad, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK last night. The prosecution also has the similar ability to appeal the verdict.
If he accepts the sentence, Breivik will most likely serve the next 21 years at Ila prison, but risks sitting behind bars for the rest of his life. Although Norwegian law does not permit life sentences, there is a possibility for extending custody in five-year intervals if there is a risk for repetition of the crimes. During that time, he has plans to write a trilogy of political books in English detailing the attacks and his ideology.