Norway Gunman Deemed Sane, Sentenced

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 24 2012 8:24 AM

Norway Gunman Deemed Sane, Sentenced to 21 Years

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Defender Geir Lippestad (left) and defender Vibeke Hein Baera talk withAnders Behring Breivik when an Oslo Court passes judgment against him in Oslo Courthouse on August 24, 2012

Photo by Junge, Heiko/AFP/GettyImages.

A Norwegian court on Friday found Anders Breivik sane and sentenced him to 21 years in prison, the most-severe sentence allowed under the Scandinavian country's laws but one that could be extended later if the man who killed 77 people during twin terror attacks last summer is still considered a danger to society.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Breivik admitted carrying out the downtown bombing in Oslo and subsequent mass shooting at a summer youth camp from the outset. Instead, his trial focused on his mental state at the time he perpetrated the worst peacetime atrocity in his country's history. In something of a rarity, prosecutors were the ones left arguing for an insanity verdict.

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If he would have been deemed insane, authorities would have had more leeway to hold him indefinitely. More importantly, perhaps, an insanity verdict would have further undercut Breivik's claims to be an anti-Muslim crusader who was part of a larger network he referred to as the Knights Templar, and would have instead officially painted the right-wing extremist as a certified madman.

"Mr. Breivik, 33, who had insisted that he was sane when he carried out the attacks last year as part of what he called a campaign against multiculturalism in Norway, smiled when the verdict was announced. As he arrived in court on Friday, lightly bearded and wearing a dark suit and tie, he flashed a right-wing salute with his right arm jutting from his body and his fist clenched."

Breivik is expected to be kept in isolation during his prison term. News reports suggest he'll stay in a three-room cell complete with an exercise area, a TV and a computer without Internet. In May, theTelegraph reported that prison officials announced plans to hire "friends" for Breivik because they’re unwilling to restrict him to solitary confinement but also do not want to subject other inmates to him, worried he may try to take hostages.

Earlier this summer, Norway’s Health Directorate had signed off on a plan to build a new psychiatric ward inside the prison specifically to house the right-wing extremist in the event the court returned the insanity verdict that prosecutors sought.

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