Reluctant Labor Party lawyer agrees to defend Norway killer

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 26, 2011 3:32 PM
Reluctant Labor Party lawyer agrees to defend Norway killer

By Walter Gibbs

OSLO (Reuters) - After massacring at least 76 people, most of them young members of the Norwegian Labor Party, right-wing zealot Anders Behring Breivik had a request: to be defended by Oslo lawyer Geir Lippestad.

Lippestad was already well known in Norway for defending in a racially-motivated murder case. But Breivik apparently did not know another biographical detail of his lawyer -- Lippestad is himself a member of Labor, the party whose policies of racial tolerance and multiculturalism the killer loathes.

"Someone has to do this job," the lawyer told a news conference. Lippestad, who received Breivik's request through the police the day after Friday's bombings and shootings, said he spent 10 to 12 hours making up his mind before agreeing to accept the case as a matter of principle.

"My first reaction was that this was too difficult," he said. "But then I sat down with family, friends and colleagues and we said that today is the time to think about democracy, and if I said no to this job, then I would say no to democracy."

Breivik, who sees himself as a righteous crusader saving "Christendom" from a tide of Islam, bombed the office of Norway's Labor prime minister in Oslo before massacring young party members at an island camp outside the capital.

However, Lippestad said he did not think Breivik, who has had no contact with the outside world since his arrest on Friday, knew about his Labor Party affiliation.

ILL AT EASE

Lippestad, 47, looked ill at ease as the advocate of the mass killer, who published his views in a long online manifesto. "It is not my task as a lawyer to spread his political message," said Lippestad, adding that his client seemed "insane."

Until Breivik picked him, Lippestad was best known for defending Ole Nicolai Kvisler, now serving a 17-year prison sentence for the racially motivated knife murder of 15-year-old Benjamin Hermansen, whose father was African.

After the 2001 stabbing, 40,000 Norwegians marched to reject racial violence. This was one of the country's largest gatherings until Monday, when about 200,000 people streamed to central Oslo to honor the victims of Breivik's slaughter.

After detonating the Oslo bomb, killing eight, Breivik made his way to an island about 45 km (28 miles) away and shot dead least 68 at the Labor Party youth camp, in an attempt to provoke a political and cultural war across Europe.

Lippestad conceded he was under a lot of pressure, although he refused to say whether he had received threats or hate mail.

However, he said Breivik may have chosen him because of the Hermansen case. Late pop star Michael Jackson dedicated his album "Invincible" to the slain teen-ager, among others.

Lippestad said he had not decided whether to pursue an insanity defense for Breivik even though "this whole case has indicated he is insane."

If ruled unfit to stand trial after mental examinations Breivik could be placed in long-term care behind locked doors but not prison. Lippestad said Breivik may oppose the strategy.

"It will be a dilemma to look into the medical issues because he thinks he is the only one in the world who understands the truth of how the world is turning," he told Reuters in an interview.

If Breivik rejects his advice, Lippestad said, "he can find another lawyer."

(editing by David Stamp)