'Cowardly' court imposes 18 years jail

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Volkert van der Graaf has been sentenced to 18 years jail for the murder of Pim Fortuyn. A life sentence — as the prosecution demanded — would have been unique in Dutch justice, but Fortuyn's brother claims the court acted without courage. Aaron Gray-Block reports.

The brother of murdered politician Pim Fortuyn, Marten, believes the Amsterdam-Osdorp court failed to show any courage when it sentenced killer Volkert van der Graaf to 18 years jail on Tuesday.

Fortuyn said a life sentence was not realistic, but he was also disappointed with the reasoning of Judge Frans Bauduin, claiming that the judge had not known what to do with a "political murder".

He also said the Fortuyn family reproached the court for not showing any courage.

"I have been through three days with that man (Van der Graaf). He is a cool, cold fish, a cool, cold murderer. He must not get a chance to return back into society," he said.

But despite the fact he was disappointed Van der Graaf had not been given a life sentence, Fortuyn said the book had been closed for him personally when the prosecutor demanded such a jail term.

"That was a man with courage. He gave a sign to the society," he said.

A Novum news report also said Marten Fortuyn — who was holidaying with family in Italy and speaking via a telephone interview in the Tros programme, Lunch TV — quoted him saying that "I was not planning to let Volkert spoil this party".

Arguments for and against

No one in the Netherlands without a previous criminal record has been sentenced to life in jail for a single murder and in normal cases — dependent on extenuating circumstances — a murderer would only be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in jail.

But public prosecutor Koos Plooy demanded on 1 April that Van der Graaf be sentenced to life in jail for the Fortuyn murder and the main interest in Tuesday's ruling was whether he would be given the toughest penalty that Dutch law allows.

A guilty verdict for the slaying was cut and dried after Van der Graaf confessed to shooting and killing Fortuyn at the Hilversum Media Park on 6 May 2002. It was the first political assassination in the Netherlands in 300 years.

And in demanding a life sentence, Koos claimed that no one should be allowed to follow Van der Graaf's lead and use criminal and undemocratic actions to frustrate the democratic process. The prosecutor said Van der Graaf committed "an attack against the democratic process" and described the murder as a "liquidation".

But defence lawyers argued against a life sentence and quickly honed in on their main argument, reminding the court that single murders do not generally carry a life sentence.

They said the demand for a life sentence against Van der Graaf was "unreasonable" and out of proportion to the crime. They also claimed the public prosecutor's demand was influenced by public pressure.

And in a bid to avoid a life sentence, defence lawyers pleaded in favour for a 20-year sentence, the highest apart from life permitted in the Netherlands.

Judge Bauduin erred slightly more on the lenient side and ruled that Van der Graaf — who listened unmoved — should serve 18 years in jail. The judge also handed down a EUR 34,000 fine.

"All considered, a sentence of life imprisonment would not be appropriate in this case," judge Frans Bauduin told the court. "Therefore we are giving a fixed term of imprisonment."

The judges said they had taken into account that the murder had damaged Dutch democracy, had been premeditated and had been carried out "at close range and with deadly precision".

But they said there was only a small chance of Van der Graaf offending again, and he deserved a chance to be rehabilitated.

The ruling prompted an outcry from Fortuyn supporters, many of whom gathered outside the court. The LPF — the party Pim Fortuyn founded before his death — also reacted with disappointment. Newspaper De Volkskrant quoted MP Joost Eerdmans saying that the party had expected that Van der Graaf would have been sentenced to life.

And the prosecution later announced it would appeal against the court's ruling, claiming that Van der Graaf should be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Dutch law

An NOS news report reiterated that a life sentence in the Netherlands for a single murder, no matter how shocking the case was, would have been unique.

The report said life sentences have been possible in the Netherlands since 1878, eight years after the abolition of the death penalty, but such sentences are rarely handed down.

Just 12 people have been sentenced to life in jail since 1952 and they have exhausted their right of appeal. Six other people have also been sentenced to life, but their appeals are ongoing and their final sentence has not yet been determined.

Since the 1990s, Dutch judges have more frequently handed down a life sentence and NOS quoted a lawyer who claimed that seven such sentences have been handed down since the start of 2002.This is in comparison with seven life terms handed down between 1945 and 1995.

Life means life

People who are sentenced to a year-based term — a maximum of 20 years — can be released early from prison in the Netherlands once they have served two-thirds of their jail term.

This means that Van der Graaf, 33, might be released from jail after serving 12 years of his 18-year sentence. The period of incarceration is backdated to the day of his arrest and Van der Graaf could be released as early as 2014.

A common misconception in the Netherlands is that someone who is sentenced to life in jail is paroled after serving 20 years of the. This is not the case; in the Netherlands, life means life.

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