The man who confessed to killing openly gay Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn last year was sentenced to 18 years in prison Tuesday, a decision that so upset Fortuyn supporters, they booed and cursed judges, broke down in sobs, and stormed out of the courtroom. Volkert van der Graaf was convicted of committing the first political assassination in the Netherlands since World War II. Prosecutors demanded life imprisonment for him, but defense lawyers argued that such a sentence is usually reserved for serial killers.
Van der Graaf appeared to sigh with relief after the verdict was read and glanced briefly at his lawyers before being led away.
In deciding the sentence, the judges said they considered as aggravating circumstances the fact that the murder was premeditated and carried out "at close range and with deadly precision." They also took into account that the slaying of Fortuyn, who held anti-immigration views, had damaged Dutch democracy. However, they said the chance of repetition is small and that the defendant deserves a chance to be rehabilitated and rejoin society. "All considered, a sentence of life imprisonment would not be appropriate in this case," said presiding judge Frans Bauduin.
Prosecutors said they are "not dissatisfied" with the verdict and are still considering whether to appeal.
Van der Graaf, 33, testified that he shot Fortuyn outside a radio station on May 6, 2002, to stop him from gaining power and carrying out his anti-immigration agenda. The killing, which came just nine days before elections in which Fortuyn was running for prime minister, shocked the Dutch and left the country in political turmoil. Van der Graaf likely will serve about two thirds of the 18-year sentence and could be released by 2014. There is no death penalty in the Netherlands.