The Australian who killed 51 people in two New Zealand mosques in 2019 meticulously planned his rampage to maximize casualties, a prosecutor said at the start of sentencing hearings on Monday.
Brenton Tarrant, an avowed white supremacist, pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act in connection with the massacre in the southern city of Christchurch, which he streamed live on Facebook.
The 29-year-old faces a life sentence, possibly without parole, when he is sentenced later this week.
Handcuffed and dressed in gray prison clothes, Tarrant sat with his hands folded for most of the morning’s proceedings. He showed little emotion and looked directly at those giving victim impact statements.
Crown Attorney Barnaby Hawes said Tarrant told police after his arrest that he wanted to sow fear among the Muslim population.
“He intended to instill fear in those he described as invaders, including the Muslim population or more generally non-European immigrants,” Hawes said.
Tarrant also expressed regret that he hadn’t taken more lives and had planned to burn down mosques, Hawes said.
Gamal Fouda, Imam of Al Noor Mosque, told Tarrant that he was “lost and misled” and that his hatred was unnecessary.
“I can tell the terrorist’s family that they lost a son and we also lost a lot of them in our community,” Fouda said.
“I respect them because they suffer like us. ”
While most of Tarrant’s victims were at Al Noor Mosque, he attacked a second mosque before being detained en route to a third.
The attacks sparked a worldwide wave of grief, as well as a gun ban and further scrutiny of online platforms.
Families must go to court
Security was tight outside the court, with police dogs roaming the streets and snipers on rooftops, TV footage showed.
High Court Judge Cameron Mander said he had received more than 200 victim impact statements, as well as submissions from various organizations.
“I’ve read them all,” said Mander, who added that he wouldn’t convict Tarrant until Thursday morning after survivors and family members of the victims had a chance to address the court.
Many of the people who will be doing victim impact statements have traveled overseas for sentencing, undergoing two weeks of quarantine in order to participate.
The New Zealand court begins today to convict the Christchurch Mosque terrorist (who killed 51 people while praying).
Kia Kaha all my Kiwi friends and family. And to my Muslim brothers and sisters in Christchurch:
قالال تَخَافَا انَّنَّي مَعَكُمَا ْسْمَعُ وَأَرَىَ
– Susan Carland (@SusanCarland) 24 août 2020
I think of the victims of the Christchurch gunman, their families, and the Muslim community across New Zealand. Today must be a difficult day for them.
– Nina Obermaier (@NinaObermaierEU) August 24, 2020
Due to coronavirus restrictions, hundreds more will be required to observe physical distancing as they watch the proceedings via live streams to seven courtrooms in Christchurch. Others were allowed to follow the hearings online, all part of a massive logistics exercise that includes live translation of proceedings into eight languages to accommodate the diversity of the Muslim community.
Live reporting from the courtroom has been banned and other restrictions have been put in place on what the media can report.
A conviction for murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The judge can impose a life sentence without parole, a sentence that has never been used in New Zealand.