John Kristoffer Larsgard, 33, was found guilty of aggravated assault after he was accused of using the car he was driving to attack six people, two of them children, in Winslow, Arizona, newspaper VG reports.
Accompanied by his mother, Larsgard drove the wrong way down a street thronged with festival-goers on September 24th last year. En route to Chicago, the pair were seeking to recover their luggage after their previous rental car had broken down on the outskirts of the town.
As angry locals remonstrated with Larsgard, one man reached into the car and punched the Norwegian in the face, breaking his nose.
Seeking to get away, Larsgard drove over one woman’s toes, while another woman suffered grazing as she leapt out of the way.
Before making good his escape, Larsgard reversed into a store occupied by a woman and a child. Although he did not hit them, witnesses described the incident as threatening and potentially lethal.
The Norwegian was arrested and has spent the last seven months in prison, mainly siting in solitary confinement as he awaited his trial. He claims to have been treated by prison staff as one of their most dangerous criminals.
According to the court, Larsgard acted with intent when he drove into the crowd. But the 33-year-old remains insistent that he was only trying to get away.
Several witnesses came forward with emotional testimonies, accusing the defendant of threatening to kill them after his nose was broken. Larsgard denied this.
“In my view, the police and prosecutors have overreacted in this case,” Larsgard said on the sidelines of the sentencing hearing in Hoolbrok, Arizona.
Back in the courtroom, Michael Mendoza, the man who had broken Larsgard’s nose, left the building in protest, but not before he had turned around and given the Norwegian the finger.
Larsgard meanwhile put forward his version of events. His lawyer asked for the manacles to be removed from his client’s hands and feet but the judge refused, citing security concerns.
“I panicked. I had to get away from there. I’m very sorry that people think I was trying to go after them. If somebody had called the police and told them I’d driven irresponsibly, I would definitely have stopped.”
“But suddenly I was pushed and punched in the face. There were people everywhere and it was difficult for me to see what was happening.”
George Olander, a professor of economics who has acted as Norway’s honorary consul in Phoenix since 2005, described the case against Larsgard as “completely crazy”.
“The whole case is shameful for the United States. He should have received a fine or something similar for careless driving,” said Olander.
The consul added that he was astonished by Tuesday’s guilty verdict.
“There’s no proof; nor is it even probable that Larsgard tried to injure or kill anybody in Winslow. The case is completely crazy. Having attended parts of the court case, I’m shocked that he has been convicted,” said Olander.
Described by Norwegian media as one of the country’s unluckiest citizens, Larsgard was kicked out of the University of South Alabama ten days after the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2011.
A student of biochemistry, he was told the university did not want foreign students experimenting with materials that could be used to create biological weapons, newspaper Dagbladet reported at the time.
Although he had previously been cleared of a public order offence in another state, the university still considered him potentially dangerous, the paper said.