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Defense makes final case for acquitting Norwegian mass killer Breivik

Today's closing arguments mark the end of months of testimony focused on whether Anders Behring Breivik was mentally ill when he killed 85 people last July. His lawyer says he was sane.

Heiko Junge/Reuters
Norwegian gunman Anders Behring Breivik (right) and his defence lawyer Geir Lippestad stand in a courtroom during Breivik's trial in Oslo. Confessed mass-murderer Breivik should be declared sane and allowed to take responsibility for his actions, his lawyer told a Norwegian court on Friday, rebutting the prosecution request for him to be ruled criminally insane.

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Wrapping up months of testimony, the lawyer defending Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik said in closing arguments today that his client should be considered sane, but acquitted for killing 77 people last summer in a nationalist terrorist attack.

Breivik has admitted to bombing government buildings in Oslo, killing eight, and going on a shooting spree at a Labor party youth camp, killing 77, in July 2011. However, he has pleaded not guilty to charges of voluntary homicide and committing acts of terror, claiming that he did so to protect his country from the Labor party's policies promoting immigration and multiculturalism, which he says are undermining Norwegian society.

Because Breivik has admitted to the attacks, at the crux of this case is not whether he did it but whether he was sane when he did. He insists he was, and is fighting to be declared sane "so that, as he says, his political ideas can stand stronger," The Christian Science Monitor reports.

“When other revolutionaries break the law, they don’t put a diagnosis on them,” Breivik said in court earlier in the trial. “This case seems easy after weeks of witnesses that show this case is about ideology.”

If judges determine Breivik to be mentally ill, his maximum sentence would be commitment to a mental asylum as opposed to 21 years in prison. Breivik's lawyer, Geir Lippestad, has requested that the judges dismiss the prosecution's claim that his client is mentally ill, however. He said in court today that his client should be acquitted of charges on the grounds of "necessity" – that he had to do it – and that if he couldn't be acquitted, he should at least get the lightest possible sentence, CNN reports.

Determining Breivik's mental health has been a drawn-out, convoluted process, with lawyers soliciting the opinions of many psychiatrists and the defense bringing in political and religious extremists to shore up its argument that Breivik is sane. Two conflicting reports from the Norwegian Forensics Board – the first finding him paranoid schizophrenic, the second sane – further complicated the process.

The prosecution's claim that Breivik was insane is based on the first report. A spokeswoman from the prosecutor's office told CNN that if Breivik is declared sane by the court, it will seek a prison sentence of 21 years instead of compulsory mental care.

Mr. Lippestad grounded his closing arguments in Breivik's long history of political activism, including his development of extremist political ideology, which he wrote about online. "The central criterion for insanity is that the ability of realistic assessment of one's relationship to the outside world is largely abolished," he said in court today, according to CNN. "Is it violent fantasy that is the mother of these actions, or is it his political opinion?"

Lippestad also argued that Breivik had chosen his targets politically, noting that he didn't attack nonpolitical people like the captain on the boat to Utoya, and the youngest children on the island.

"Breivik knew that killing was wrong, but it's what any classic terrorist does," he said. "This will not be understood unless you know the extreme right."

The lawyer told the court he shared the prosecutor's view that the attacks, which he called "a cruel act of terrorism," were almost too horrible to be true.

But, he said, the key question for his client was whether he acted under the legal principle of "necessity."

The psychiatrists behind the second forensics board report, which found him sane and considered more heavily the role of Breivik's extremist political ideology, testified earlier this week. “[His] political beliefs are extreme, but not reality-bursting in the psychotic sense,” said psychiatrist Terje Tørrisen, according to the Monitor.

The prospect that Breivik might be judged insane and committed to a mental asylum has led to a reconsideration of laws regarding the detainment of insane criminals.

The government recently amended the Norwegian Mental Health Care Act "to strengthen the security measures relating to a small group of particularly dangerous patients" because as it stands the law carries "too great a risk for escape, hostage-taking, and severe violence against patients and staff," CNN reports.

Under the new legislation, a high-security mental health unit could be opened within a prison, allowing those deemed dangerous to be placed there instead of a mental asylum. The law goes into effect July 1. 

The judges' verdict in Breivik's case will be delivered either July 20 or August 24.

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