A Dutch court began hearings Tuesday to reconsider the 18-year prison sentence of the convicted killer of populist and openly gay politician Pim Fortuyn, with judges questioning his motive for the crime. Lawyers for Volkert van der Graaf argued that the sentence is too harsh, while prosecutors said they want the animal rights activist to serve life in prison. Van der Graaf's sentence was "more than is usual in this sort of case, and we see no reason why," defense lawyer Steijn Franken told the three judges hearing the appeal at a high-security courthouse outside Amsterdam. Defense lawyers have noted that the usual sentence for a single murder is 12 to 16 years in the Netherlands, where there is no death penalty and life sentences generally are given only to serial murderers. As Van der Graaf entered the courtroom Tuesday, Fortuyn supporters began chanting "Pim Fortuyn, we go on!"
Prosecutor Inge van Asperen de Boer said trial judges hadn't properly considered the damage the murder did to the democratic process; Van der Graaf's lukewarm remorse; the chance that he may have lied about his motives; and that he might kill again. The hearings will run through this week at the Amsterdam district court, and a verdict is expected by July 19.
Van der Graaf, 33, confessed to shooting Fortuyn outside a radio station on May 6, 2002, just days before elections in which Fortuyn was running for prime minister on an anti-immigration platform. Fortuyn was an outspoken academic who shook up polite Dutch politics by blaming rising crime on Muslim immigrants. He was hated by many leftists and loved by many blue-collar Dutch who felt he was the only politician willing to address their concerns. His murder set off a year of political turmoil in which support for his party first surged and then collapsed. But many of Fortuyn's ideas, especially regarding immigration, have become policy.