Gasps at accused NZ shooter’s plea
Brenton Tarrant has today denied being the Christchurch mosque terror attacker and will stand trial in May next year.
The 28-year-old Australian national entered not guilty pleas during a short appearance at the High Court at Christchurch this morning.
Wearing a grey sweatshirt and straining to hear discussions, he was not in the courtroom but instead appeared via audio visual link from Paremoremo Prison in Auckland.
The courtroom was filled with victims - survivors and family members of the 51 killed during the March 15 attack at two Christchurch mosques - with many more watching from two overflow rooms inside the courthouse via audio visual link.
They reacted with gasps when the not guilty pleas were entered.
A trial date of May 4 was confirmed by Justice Cameron Mander. Crown believes the trial could last around six weeks. Defence counsel Shane Tait believes it could take up to three months.
The accused was remanded in custody to a case review hearing on August 16 at 9.15am.
Christchurch Crown Solicitor Mark Zarifeh formally laid another murder charge, two additional attempted murder charges, and a charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
The accused gunman now faces a total of 51 murder charges and 40 attempted murder charges - along with the terrorism charge.
Justice Cameron Mander said the court has received two health assessors' reports that were ordered at the last court hearing under section 38 of the Mental Health Act to determine whether the defendant was mentally fit or impaired and whether he is mentally able to enter pleas to the charges.
The judge confirmed today: "No issues arise regarding the defendant's fitness to plead, to instruct council and to stand trial. Therefore a fitness hearing is not required."
Suppression also lifted today on the names of the attempted murder victims, the judge confirmed. The Crown confirmed that, after enquiries, they did not seek a continuation of the suppression order.
However, three victims under the age of 18 have statutory suppression.
Suppression also lifted on the name of the 51st person to die from the attacks - Turkish national Zekeriah Tuyan who passed away at Christchurch Hospital.
Several family members and survivors of the mosque shooting came to court this morning. There is reserved seating for 80 in the public gallery, while others elsewhere in the courthouse are dialling in via audio visual link-up.
Before the hearing, Abdul Aziz, widely hailed as a hero for confronting the gunman and chasing him away from Linwood Islamic Centre where seven people were killed, wanted to see the accused in court.
"I just want to see his stupid face," he said.
"We are getting there slowly. But it will take time. Days like today bring it all back."
Once again there was a large domestic and international media presence for the alleged gunman's third appearance.
TV cameras and photographers are lined up outside the Christchurch Justice Precinct which houses the High Court courtroom.
Media were ushered inside by security and moved to a briefing room before 22 journalists will be taken into the courtroom where the hearing will start at 9.15am. There is an overflow of journalists who will watch proceedings via audio visual link from another room inside the courthouse.