Sole suspect in Christchurch mosque shooting pleads not guilty on all charges
The man charged in relation to the Christchurch mosque massacre Brenton Harrison Tarrant (pixelated) is led into the dock for his appearance for murder, in the District Court, Christchurch, New Zealand, Mar. 16, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/Martin Hunter / POOL NEW ZEALAND OUT
Sydney, Australia, Jun 14 (efe-epa).- The man accused of perpetrating a terror attack against two mosques in New Zealand that killed 51 people on Friday pleaded not guilty on all the charges pressed against him.
The suspect, 29-year-old Australian national Brenton Tarrant, faces one count of engaging in a terrorist act, 51 counts of murder and 40 of attempted murder for the mass shootings he allegedly committed at two local mosques in the city of Christchurch on Mar. 15 as Muslim worshipers were conducting their Friday prayer.
According to public broadcaster Radio New Zealand, Tarrant – who witnessed the proceedings through teleconference as he remains detained in a high-security prison in Auckland – appeared to smile on the screen as one of his two attorneys entered the plea on his behalf before the Christchurch High Court.
The not guilty plea was met with some gasps among the audience, which included survivors and relatives of the victims.
Most of the massacre was live-streamed through Tarrant's alleged social media accounts, imitating the style of first-person shooter videogames.
During the hearing, Justice Cameron Mander said the mental health assessments he had received indicated that Tarrant was fit to stand trial.
"No issue arises regarding the defendant's fitness to plead, to instruct counsel, and to stand his trial," Mander said in a statement. "A fitness hearing is not required."
The judge also fixed a date for the start of the trial: May 4 of next year. While prosecutors have expressed their belief that the trial will last about six weeks, Tarrant's defense has said that it will likely drag on for several months.
Tarrant is set to be remanded in pre-trial custody, with a case review hearing scheduled for August 16.
A restriction on publishing unpixellated photos of the suspect was lifted last week.
This was Tarrant's third court appearance since his arrest on the day of the attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques.
The attacks, allegedly fueled by Tarrant's explicitly white supremacist ideology, shook New Zealand's society to its core.
The government has since taken a series of measures, such as a gun law reform on the possession of semi-automatic rifles or social media restrictions to prevent the propagation of hate messages, as well as creating a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate all factors that may have played a part in the tragedy.