The fall of Norway's boastful killerComment on this story
Oslo - As a marathon trial neared its end, the world of Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik shrank from a globally televised, clench-fisted victory salute to tales of plastic surgery on his nose, failed business deals and obsessive computer gaming.
Relentless questioning by prosecutors stripped down the anti-Islam militant from an almost larger-than-life monster who slaughtered 77 people to a rather mediocre, 33-year-old man who excelled in little other than being evil.
The 10-week trial that ended with a verdict on Friday that Breivik was not insane and must serve a maximum jail term was once mocked as over-the-top Nordic liberalism and a courtroom circus for his extreme far-right views. But the patient civility of Norwegian justice appears to have triumphed.
“I don't think people realised how small and pathetic he was, with that thin voice of his,” said Mette Yvonne Larsen, one of the three lawyers in court representing victims.
It did not seem that way on the first day of his trial, when a smirking Breivik first walked into the packed courtroom with his far-right salute on live television. Breivik had even received over 100 letters of support from around Europe.
In a fresh suit, stylish tie and ironed shirt, he shook hands with prosecutors and lawyers. Norwegians appeared to treat him like they would a suspect in a household burglary.
Breivik then read page after page of his testimony, justifying his bombing of government offices and a gun rampage against the ruling Labour party's youth movement on the grounds that Europe was threatened by a multicultural “hell”.
The judge politely tried to shut him up. “Just one more page,” Breivik replied. The judge seemed powerless to stop him.
But there were signs even then that he would soon fall from his perch and his edifice would crumble.
“His hand was like a child's, limp,” said Larsen, one of those who had shaken hands with him. “Not like a man's.”
From that first day of trial, his decline and fall began.
The mild mannered prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh talked down to him like she would a child, gently probing how he returned to live with his mother after business deals failed, and his habit of wearing a face mask to avoid getting dirty.
She quietly insinuated, with an almost mischievous smile, that he had a nose job. Asked about his tendency to spend days playing computer games, he lost his composure.
“I know where you're going, you're ridiculing me,” he said. “I will not be a part of that. I will turn my microphone off.”
He often dug his own grave. He called himself a “caring person, talked about killing people who had “leftist looks” on their faces, and said women were inferior and belonged at home.
There was also the sheer horror, tales of how his victims were paralysed with fear who just stopped running and lay down before he shot them dead in the head, how he roared a joyous battle cry, looking angry and smiling simultaneously.
And how in police custody after the massacre, he appeared more concerned about blood loss from his cut finger and posed like a bodybuilder for a police photographer.
The icy civility of Norwegians appeared then to be breaking. A victim's relative threw a shoe at him. Tens of thousands of Norwegians spontaneously protested, singing a children's song that Breivik had said was Marxist propaganda.
After a few days, Breivik's time in the sun was over and it was the turn of the survivors of the mass shooting on Utoeya island to recount their tales. One by one they confronted him.
“Victims remembered the gunman being a monster, being two metres high,” Geir Lippestad, Breivik's lawyer, told Reuters.
“The trial brought him down to just a human being with very bad thoughts. If you looked upon him as a monster, that would have taken away responsibility as society. The society has some responsibility about how this was possible.”
Breivik seemed particularly uneasy one day when a young girl sat in the court to testify. She had put on a top without sleeves to show him, and the world, the now dangling limb that was once a healthy arm.
Breivik looked shocked, fidgety, his face flushed.
“On July 22, he was in control,” said Eskil Pedersen, the leader of the Labour Party's youth wing and a massacre survivor, referring to the date of the attack last year.
“A lot of survivors have said that during the trial he has been brought down to mediocrity.”
On the last day of the trial hearings, two months ago, he gave a final speech. Few remember the diatribe. Most international TV coverage had long gone. Some people yawned. Others just walked out of the court.
Breivik's days of fame were over.
“The first day everyone listened,” said Larsen. “On the last day no one did. He looked kind of helpless when people walked out of the courtroom.” - Reuters