OSLO — The trial of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway last July, enters the final stretch Thursday with the prosecutors' call for him to be sent either to prison or to a mental hospital.
Prosecutors Svein Holden and Inga Bejer Engh are to begin presenting their much-awaited closing arguments at 1000 GMT, when they will reveal whether they want the court to find Breivik responsible or not for his actions.
They will base their request on psychiatric evaluations of the 33-year-old rightwing extremist which have sharply contradicted each other.
In the formal indictment presented in March, in which Breivik was charged with "acts of terror", the two prosecutors called for him to be committed to psychiatric care but left the door open to change their minds if new information were to surface about his mental health.
They adopted that line based on the sole psychiatric evaluation that had been completed at the time which diagnosed Breivik as insane, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and therefore not responsible for his actions.
That conclusion caused an uproar in Norway, with many stunned to learn that the man who spent years secretly and meticulously planning his twin attacks could not be held responsible for his actions.
The Oslo district court then ordered a second opinion which contradicted the first one, finding him sane, as did a number of other psychiatrists who observed Breivik in detention and in court.
These experts all agreed that Breivik is not suffering from a psychosis, but rather some form of personality disorder -- which would mean he could be sentenced to prison.
Breivik wants to be officially declared sane in order to ensure that his Islamophobic ideology is not written off as the ravings of a lunatic, and has said court-ordered psychiatric confinement would be "a fate worse than death."
"It's an extremely difficult situation, there's no doubt about it," Norway's director of public prosecutions, Tor-Aksel Busch, told news agency NTB.
If found sane, Breivik faces Norway's maximum prison sentence of 21 years behind bars, a sentence that can be extended as long as he is considered a threat to society.
If he is found criminally insane, he could spend the rest of his life in psychiatric care.
In order to sentence him to prison, the judges must be convinced that he is sane "beyond reasonable doubt", a legal term that lacks a clear definition.
The prosecution's closing arguments on Thursday will therefore be crucial in either emphasising or eliminating doubt on the question.
On July 22, Breivik first set off a car bomb outside government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people, before travelling to Utoeya island, northwest of the capital, where he spent more than an hour methodically shooting and killing another 69 people, mostly teenagers.
The victims had been attending a summer camp hosted by the governing Labour Party's youth organisation.
Breivik has told the court his acts were "cruel but necessary" to protect Norway from a wave of multiculturalism and a "Muslim invasion".
The trial, which opened on April 16, concludes on Friday with the defence lawyers' closing arguments. They are expected to call for Breivik to be acquitted, since, despite his confession, he has pleaded not guilty.
Alternatively, they will ask that he be found sane and sent to prison.
The Oslo court is expected to announce its verdict on either July 20 or August 24.
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