THE lawyers of the man accused of shooting dead 51 Muslim worshippers in the Christchurch mosque attacks entered not guilty pleas for their client to charges of terrorism, multiple murder and attempted murder in a hearing attended by survivors of the March 15 attack.
Brenton Tarrant’s barrister told Christchurch High Court his client was pleading not guilty to all charges, prompting anger from survivors and relatives of those killed in the March 15 attacks.
The self-proclaimed white supremacist appeared in court via audio-visual link from a maximum-security prison in Auckland for the brief hearing.
He smirked at times and even smiled during the hearing which further angered survivors and family members of the 51 he had killed in his attack that he streamed live on Facebook.
Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian national, was committed to stand trial next year on 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and engaging in a terrorist act.
-Anger at suspect’s “smiling demeanor”-
The suspect’s smiling demeanor enraged survivors still reeling from the worst massacre in modern New Zealand history, who had packed the courthouse’s public gallery for a glimpse of the accused.
“It just shows he’s an animal,” Mustafa Boztas, who was wounded in the thigh, told AFP outside the court.
“I feel sad that someone can be so unhuman and take the lives of innocent people.”
Abdul Aziz, who confronted the gunman at the Linwood mosque and chased him off the premises, said he wanted to see Tarrant’s face.
“He was laughing there (in court) and he thinks he was so tough, but he was a coward when he faced me and he ran,” he said.
“He was not man enough to stand up that time and (now) he’s standing there and laughing.
“Put me for 15 minutes in one cell and then we will see if he can laugh any more.”
-Trial starts in May 2020; suspect fit to stand trial, says judge-
The judge set a trial date for May 4, 2020.
Judge Cameron Mander said that there was no issue that had arisen regarding Tarrant’s mental fitness to enter pleas or stand trial based on the mental health assessments submitted to the court.
“No issue arises regarding the defendant’s fitness to plead, to instruct counsel, and to stand his trial. A fitness hearing is not required,” Judge Mander said in a statement shortly after the hearing.
The trial proceedings are expected to last at least six weeks, although some lawyers warned the case — sure to be one of the biggest-ever in New Zealand — could go twice as long.
“The court endeavours to bring serious criminal cases to trial within a year of arrest. The scale and complexity of this case makes this challenging,” Mander said.
Didar Hossain, whose uncle and friends were killed in the attack, was disappointed the justice system was taking so long to deal with the case.
“It should be finished in six months, that would be good for us. We are not happy,” he said.
Tarrant was remanded in custody to appear for a case review hearing to be held on August 15.
Mander barred news outlets from taking photographs or video of Tarrant’s latest court appearance, although he said images from an earlier hearing could be used.
Outside the court, police and court security staff escorted a man away after he got into an argument with survivors and family members, who later said the man was saying things supportive of white supremacist ideology.
Police said they arrested a 33-year-old man and charged him with disorderly behavior.
Janna Ezat wore a shirt that she’d designed which featured an image of her son Hussein Al-Umari, who was killed in the attacks. She said the court hearing had made her angry.
“Before I was OK and calm and believe in this life my son died and he is in a good place,” she said. “But when I saw the terrorist, he was just, he’s nothing. Just sitting like that. Pretending that he’s innocent and nothing is wrong.”
She said she thought the shooter deserved to be given the death penalty, even though New Zealand no longer institutes the punishment.
“It’s not easy to lose your child. Not only my child, but 50 people,” Ezat said. “It’s unfair. It’s unfair. And he was laughing.”
(with reports from Agence France Presse and Associated Press)