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Life sentence for Swedish minister's slaying

/ Source: The Associated Press

A 25-year-old man who said voices in his head told him to stab Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison Tuesday.

The Stockholm district court said Mijailo Mijailovic acted with “reckless and ruthless brutality” when he knifed Lindh as she shopped unguarded at an upscale department store Sept. 10.

“The violence has been severe. The location and size of the stab wounds strongly indicate the purpose was to kill,” the court said in its 25-page ruling. Lindh was stabbed several times, the fatal blow piercing her liver.

Given the technical evidence and Mijailovic’s confession, the verdict was expected, legal experts said.

Still, the court’s decision brought relief to Swedes still haunted by the unsolved murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. The verdict did not, however, provide any motive for the attack, which plunged the country into mourning just days ahead of a national referendum on adopting the euro.

Appeal possible
Mijailovic, a Swede of Serbian origin, said voices in his head, including Jesus, told him to attack Lindh, but he insisted he didn’t mean to kill her.

Defense attorney Peter Althin said he had not yet decided whether to appeal the sentence — the most severe under Swedish law — but added it was flawed.

“I think it rests on a frail foundation,” Althin told The Associated Press. “The biggest weakness is the assertion that it’s been proven that he saw Anna Lindh right before the attack.”

Mijailovic claims that he acted on impulse when he lunged at Lindh inside the NK department store, but the court said surveillance camera pictures of his movements indicated he had spotted her earlier and had plenty of time to plan the attack.

Lindh, 46, who was touted as a future prime minister, died a day after the stabbing. The shock of her death was exacerbated by the many pro-euro campaign posters carrying her smiling face around Sweden. The attack was not believed to be related to the euro, which voters rejected in the Sept. 14 referendum.

“It is very important that this murder is solved. We have seen before what deep wounds were created by the murder of Olof Palme,” Justice Minister Thomas Bodstroem said.

Murderer used antidepressants
The court last week rejected a request by the defense to sentence Mijailovic to psychiatric care.

Althin had argued that Mijailovic was mentally unstable and under the influence of several prescribed antidepressants during the attack. But the court said there were no grounds to review a psychiatric evaluation that found he wasn’t suffering from a serious mental illness.

“It was very much expected, it couldn’t have gone any other way,” said Christopher Diesen, a law professor at Stockholm University. “There were no extenuating circumstances.”

In its ruling Tuesday, the court dismissed Mijailovic’s claims that he acted on the commands of inner voices. Citing Lindh’s suffering and her vulnerability, the court said there were no extenuating circumstances.

Mijailovic was also ordered to pay $20,000 in damages to Lindh’s husband and their two sons.

Mijailovic denied involvement for months, but confessed after being confronted with overwhelming evidence, including a DNA analysis linking him to the murder weapon — a craftsman’s knife.

Normally, life sentences are commuted by the government after about 15 years.