New Zealand massacre suspect charged with 49 more murders

Brenton Tarrant making a sign to the camera during his appearance, on a charge of murder for the Christchurch mosque massacres, in a District Court last month. The media is allowed to publish only pixellated images of Tarrant.
Brenton Tarrant making a sign to the camera during his appearance, on a charge of murder for the Christchurch mosque massacres, in a District Court last month. The media is allowed to publish only pixellated images of Tarrant.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Accused ordered to undergo mental assessment to see if he is fit to stand trial

CHRISTCHURCH • Australian Brenton Tarrant appeared in a New Zealand court yesterday, where the suspected white supremacist was charged with an additional 49 counts of murder at two mosques last month.

The High Court judge overseeing the appearance ordered Tarrant to undergo a mental assessment to determine whether he was fit to stand trial. He was not required to submit a plea.

In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15, killing 50 worshippers and wounding dozens of people.

Tarrant, who was charged with one murder a day after the shooting attack, was also charged with 39 attempted murders yesterday.

Tarrant, 28, has been moved to New Zealand's only maximum-security prison in Auckland and appeared at the Christchurch High Court through a video link.

He was then remanded into custody until June 14.

High Court Judge Cameron Mander said whether Tarrant would be required to enter a plea at his next appearance depended on his mental health assessment and "any other developments".

 
 

Legal experts said two mental health experts would likely assess Tarrant, while police, who have not ruled out further charges, would continue to investigate New Zealand's worst peacetime mass killing.

Prison officials say Tarrant is under 24-hour surveillance with no access to media, according to news reports.

He appeared in a video feed handcuffed and seated, and wearing a grey prison T-shirt. He listened calmly throughout the hearing, which lasted roughly 20 minutes.

Around two dozen family members of victims and some survivors of the attacks were present in the courtroom.

Mr Tofazzal Alam, a regular at one of the mosques, when asked about seeing the suspect on video, said: "The man had no emotion."

Tarrant would be represented by two Auckland lawyers, one of them, Mr Shane Tait, said in a statement on his website. It did not include any comments on the case.

Mr Tait said yesterday he was arranging for his client to receive psychiatric assessment and that the process would take "some months", according to court minutes.

"As I observed at this morning's hearing, that is a usual and regular step for counsel to take at this point in the proceeding," said Judge Mander.

Media had reported that Tarrant wished to represent himself and legal experts have said he may try to use the hearings as a platform to present his ideology and beliefs.

Mr Graeme Edgeler, a Wellington-based barrister and legal commentator, said, "If he has lawyers, he will be speaking a lot less in court. He can still give evidence... that's possible, but if he's represented by lawyers and it goes to trial, he won't be asking questions of people."

Although journalists were able to attend and take notes, coverage of the hearing was restricted, with media allowed to publish only pixellated images of Tarrant that obscure his face.

The judge also suppressed the names of people he was alleged to have attempted to murder.

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2019, with the headline 'NZ massacre suspect charged with 49 more murders'. Print Edition | Subscribe