An Oslo court sentenced Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing extremist who admitted to killing 77 people in a bomb attack and shooting spree last July, to 21 years in prison — the maximum sentence available under Norwegian law.
The decision came after a panel of five judges unanimously declared the 33-year-old sane, and therefore legally responsible, at the time he committed the massacre, Norway‘s worst since the World War II.
Breivik has repeatedly said that the attacks were necessary to stop the “Islamization” of Norway. He gave a clench-fisted salute shortly after he entered the courtroom and smiled as the judges delivered their ruling. Breivik had previously stated that he wanted to be spared the “humiliation” of being declared a madman and had described potential psychiatric treatment as a sentence “worse than death.”
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The 10-week trial departed from the classic script. In an apparent reversal of roles, the prosecution argued that the man who gunned down teenagers attending a youth summer camp was insane and that he should serve time in a hospital rather than a prison. The defense team argued that he knew exactly what he was doing and was in complete control of his actions.
During the trial, psychiatrists seemed equally divided. An initial assessment by psychiatrists resulted in a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. But following public outcry, a second team of psychiatrists found that the self-described “Nordic warrior” was not psychotic.
The victims’ families will likely welcome the sanity ruling. Throughout the trial, which ended in June, relatives of the deceased spoke out and said they wanted Breivik to be held accountable for his actions. That mirrors a poll published by Norway’s Verdens Gang newspaper this morning, which found that 72% of Norwegians believe Breivik should be deemed sane.
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Breivik’s 21-year sentence for terrorism and premeditated murder seems light to casual observers outside Norway. The country does not have a death penalty or give life sentences, and its progressive criminal-justice system emphasizes rehabilitation over retribution, even for the most serious offenders. An inmate’s punishment, the thinking goes, is being separated from society and living one’s life in confinement. Harsher measures, it’s thought, do little to benefit anyone, particularly the society to which the criminals will eventually return. Breivik currently splits his time among three cells: one for exercise, one for sleeping and one for working and writing.
The relative creature comforts and the 21-year sentence do not change the fact that Breivik may never walk free again. Authorities can extend his sentence indefinitely if they feel he remains a threat to society. To help with that assessment, Breivik will have his sentence and progress reviewed every two years after completing a decade in jail. “[After 21 years] they might at that time see that things have changed, that he has changed, and that it’s not necessary after 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, to keep him in jail,” lawyer Frode Sulland told the BBC after the verdict was announced. “But none of us can ever know about that. We’ll just have to see. But as things looked today, I think it’s very unlikely he will ever come out.”