Norway's mass murderer awaits his fate

Whatever the ruling, his destination will be the same — Ila prison

Stian Lysberg Solum/AP Photo

As Canada reels from the double shock of dismemberment murder in Montreal and triple murder in Edmonton, the trial of a man whose actions horrified the entire world last summer quietly ended on the other side of the Atlantic.

It ended with calm, cold words of self-justification from Anders Behring Breivik, the man who has confessed to killing 77 people in twin terror attacks in his native Norway last July.

And it ended with a silent protest by the families of Breivik’s victims, most of them teenagers methodically hunted down and shot by Breivik at a summer camp.

As Breivik took the stand to make his final statement on the last day of his trial, about 30 members of a victims’ support group rose and silently filed out of the Oslo courtroom.

“He has a right to talk. We have no duty to listen,” one family member, Christian Bjelland, told Norwegian media.

Inside the courtroom, the 33-year-old Breivik told the panel of five judges hearing his case that his murderous rampage was a political act and asked them to acquit him.

Much of the two-month trial has been carried live on television, but cameras were withdrawn from the courtroom before Breivik’s Friday afternoon speech. He did not have a national audience for his final attack on his victims.

Breivik has admitted responsibility for the July 22, 2011 massacres in which eight people died when he bombed Oslo government buildings, then shot to death 69 others, mainly teens, at a summer camp on a nearby island.

Breivik says his actions were politically inspired, not criminal, and were defensible as a strike against multiculturalism and an attempt to stop the “Muslim invasion” of Europe.

The principal issue of the trial, which began April 16, is to determine whether Breivik was sane or insane when he carried out the terror attacks.  If the court determines Breivik was sane at the time, he will face the maximum sentence of 21 years in prison (which can be extended if he is still considered a menace to society at the end of that sentence). If found insane, Breivik will face closed psychiatric care, probably for life.

Two teams of court-appointed psychiatrists examined Breivik prior to the trial and came to opposing views on his mental state. One team diagnosed Breivik with paranoid schizophrenia and declared him insane. The second team came to the conclusion that Breivik was not psychotic either during their interview sessions or during the attacks. They found him to be an extreme narcissist with an anti-social personality disorder, but sane as defined by Norwegian law.

Breivik is fighting to be judged sane because he does not want the massive ideological manifesto he put online the day of the attacks to be written off as the ravings of a madman. The group representing families of the victims also wants him to be judged sane, so that he is held fully responsible for his murderous actions.

As a result, most of the two-month trial has focused on issues regarding Breivik’s sanity. Testimony in recent weeks has leaned heavily to support for the diagnosis of the second team of psychiatrists which said Breivik was narcissistic and anti-social but legally sane.

The leader of an 18-person psychiatric team that monitored Breivik in his prison cell around the clock for three weeks earlier this year, testified Breivik showed no signs of psychotic behaviour at any point during the observation period.

“It is very unlikely that he would be able to conceal a psychosis for three weeks,” psychiatrist Maria Sigurjonsdottir testified, according to Agence France-Presse.

One of Norway’s top defence lawyers, Frode Sulland (who is not a participant in the trial), said last week that the weight of evidence points to the court finding Breivik sane.

“That’s the way the wind is blowing,” Sulland told the NTB news agency.

Even if he is judged insane, Breivik will be held in the same high-security prison where he is currently incarcerated. The Oslo newspaper Verdens Gang, quoting Norway’s deputy health minister, reported June 7 that a new psychiatric unit is being built in Oslo’s Ila prison because none of Norway’s existing mental facilities are considered secure enough to hold Breivik.

On Monday, one of the principal psychiatrists who found Breivik to be sane, testified that the killer is receiving hate mail in prison but also fan mail — including love letters from teenaged girls and marriage proposals.

“They were clear declarations of support,” psychiatrist Terje Tørrissen testified, according to NTB. “They support both his ideology and the operation itself.”

Tørrissen said he and fellow psychiatrist Agnar Aspaas took notes on the letters as part of their ongoing assessment of Breivik’s mental state, including his response to the correspondence.

Tørrissen testified Monday, according to Reuters news agency,  that be began to have doubts about his original diagnosis of sanity during the early stages of Breivik’s trial.

“I thought, ‘How is it possible to sit through this without showing any sign of emotion?'” Tørrissen told the court.

As a result, Tørrissen said he was granted a second interview with Breivik — not known publicly until Monday — which Tørrissen said convinced him that his original diagnosis was correct and that Breivik was legally sane.

However, public prosecutor Svein Holden recommended an insanity verdict when he made his final presentation Wednesday.

“We are not convinced or certain that Breivik is legally insane but we are in doubt,” Holden told the court. “So we request that he is transferred to compulsory psychiatric care.”

The five judges are scheduled to return to court with their ruling on Aug. 24.

Breivik has told the court he will accept a finding of guilt if he is ruled sane but will appeal any verdict that declares him to be insane.

Whatever the ruling, his final destination will be the same — Ila prison. Probably for the rest of his life.

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