The man accused of killing 51 people in mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques in March has pleaded not guilty to terrorism, murder and attempted murder.
Brenton Tarrant, who appeared via video link from a maximum security prison in Auckland, smirked but did not speak and showed little other emotion as his lawyer entered not guilty pleas on multiple counts.
Audible gasps could be heard in the courtroom as the not guilty pleas were entered.
Tarrant was not in court in person in Christchurch; instead he appeared via a video link from a maximum-security prison where he’s being held in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.
Throughout the half-hour hearing on Friday, Tarrant – wearing a plain grey top – stood looking slightly up at a camera positioned above him. He did not say a word during the hearing. He nodded once to acknowledge he could hear the judge, and at times smirked.
When his lawyer entered the ‘not guilty’ pleas on his behalf, he grinned and – at one point – winked at the camera.
At the last hearing on April 5, the court had ordered Tarrant to undergo a mental assessment first to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.
The judge, Justice Cameron Mander, said the accused’s mental state had been assessed and he was fit to stand trial.
“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.
Because of the volume of evidence the prosecution and defence will have to consider, that trial will not take place until May 4. It is expected to last at least six weeks and possibly as long as three months.
Tarrant has been remanded in custody until August 16 when a case review hearing is scheduled.
New Zealand abolished the death penalty in 1989 and has not executed anyone since 1957. If found guilty, Tarrant faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.