Discuss as:

Norway prosecutors ask court to declare mass murderer Breivik insane

Berit Roald/EPA

Confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik, right, gives a relaxed smile moments before prosecutors delivered their closing arguments in the Oslo courthouse, Thursday.

Prosecutors asked a Norwegian court on Thursday to declare far-right mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik insane and commit him to a mental institution.

While not certain that Breivik was not responsible for his actions, they chose to give him the benefit of the doubt in the face of conflicting psychiatric reports, and so to go against the view of most Norwegians that he should go to prison.

"In our opinion, it's worse to send a psychotic person to preventive detention than to send a non-psychotic person to mandatory care," prosecutor Svein Holden told the court.

"We are not convinced that Anders Behring Breivik is legally insane, but we are in doubt. So our petition is for a judgment that he shall be transferred to compulsory mental health care,” he added.

Held indefinitely
If the court agrees with the prosecution's request, Breivik could be held indefinitely, receiving treatment in a secure ward set up in a high-security prison. His presence there would come up for review every three years.

If the court opts for a prison term instead, prosecutors said their preference would be the maximum sentence of 21 years. A sentence can be extended beyond that if a prisoner is considered a menace to society, The Associated Press reported.

Norway prison seeks 'friends' to play hockey, chess with mass killer Breivik

Three out of four Norwegians consider Breivik sane enough for a jail term, according to a poll carried out for the public broadcaster NRK. Many find it hard to understand how someone could be insane and yet spend years planning such a spectacular attack so meticulously.

A pre-trial psychiatric report that found him to be insane created such an outcry that the court ordered another one, which came to the opposite conclusion.

Breivik: I'm sane
Breivik admits to killing 77 people in twin attacks last July, most of them teenagers at a Labour Party summer camp.

He says he should be declared sane, but acquitted on grounds that he was defending the Norwegian people by fighting the supporters of Muslim immigration.

If the court finds him to have been insane, he has said that it will be "worse than death", and he will appeal.

Earlier in the trial, Breivik said the psychiatric dimension of the case was a way for Norwegian authorities to ridicule him and divert attention from his ideology.

Tears as victim's brother throws shoe at Norway mass killer Anders Breivik

Breivik claims Norway and Europe are being colonized by Muslims, who make up about 2 percent of Norway's population. 

He first detonated a bomb outside government headquarters in Oslo to create a diversion, then systematically gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a summer camp run by the ruling Labour Party on the island of Utoeya.

"What is most incomprehensible is how unaffected he was by his acts," prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh said. "He described without remorse or feeling how these young people begged for their lives, and how he shot them in the head to make sure they were dead."

The trial ends with closing defense arguments on Friday. The two professional and three lay judges are due to reach a verdict by August 24.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More world news from msnbc.com and NBC News:

Follow us on Twitter: @msnbc_world