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'Absent of any empathy for your victims': Christchurch mosque killer will spend rest of life in prison

Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Muslim Association Canterbury President Mohamed Jama reacts outside court to the unprecedented life without parole sentence handed to the Christchurch mosques murderer. Source: 1 NEWS

The sentence is the strongest available punishment available under New Zealand law and has never been handed down before.

It means the terrorist will spend the rest of his life in jail without prospect of release. 

Tarrant, 29, admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one terror charge following a hateful massacre at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15, 2019.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 51 murders, 12 years for each of the 40 attempted murder charges and life for the charge of terrorism.

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The sentence is the strongest available punishment available under New Zealand law, Ryan Boswell reports. Source: 1 NEWS

He used high-powered guns to kill as many Muslims as he could.

Justice Cameron Mander began his sentencing by describing the carefully planned horror that Tarrant had inflicted on so many, outlining his systematic murder of men, women and children.

Victims and survivors could be heard crying softly in the public gallery as the Judge laid bare the indignity the terrorist had showed the worshipers, saying he had even fired on people huddling in the corners of the room, executing any person who showed signs of life.

All the while Tarrant sat impassive and emotionless in the dock, unmoved by the terrible details of the massacres he had so hatefully carried out.

He remained cold and silent as a summary of 200 victim impact statements was read to the court, with Justice Mander taking time to honour those who had died, and detailing losses that “would hurt forever”.

In a horrifying rollcall of grief on a scale never seen before in a New Zealand court, there was only time for a few sentences on each individual tragedy, with the Judge outlining widows left without providers, families left without children and bereaved relatives later dying of broken hearts.

Even then, with the details of each murder reduced to a fleeting summary, the tribute to the lost and injured was so long it stretched on for nearly an hour in open court.

“Your actions have destroyed that family, as they have so many other families,” the Judge said of one.

“A little girl has had 14 surgeries for her injuries. No child should be subject to such pain and violence,” he said of another.

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It’s the first time this maximum penalty has ever been used in New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

As many of those in the public gallery listened through headphones, with translators relaying the words in different languages, the names of each of the victims was read out.

“The people who you killed and wounded were not the only victims. All of those who were present or in the vicinity of the mosques have suffered deeply from their experience, as have the wider Muslim community,” the Judge continued.

“The severe debilitating effects of this lasting trauma and post-traumatic stress have been profound.”

Justice Mander then moved to address Tarrant saying a psychiatrist had assessed Tarrant as a ‘white European ethno-nationalist’ who had an “air of superiority and narcissism”.

The killer appeared to have been radicalised after travelling extensively overseas and observing the large migrant populations in some European countries, the court heard.

While he had initially admitted the offending, telling police he wished he had killed more people, the 29-year-old Australian later expressed some regret in prison.

“You have described those beliefs to the pre-sentence report writer as not real, that you were at the time in a poisoned emotional state and terribly unhappy. You said you felt ostracised by society and you wanted to damage society as an act of revenge,” Justice Mander said.

“You told a psychiatrist you were not acting clearly or rationally and you were acting on delusional beliefs.”

However, that was to be viewed with some suspicion, as experts had found he had not acted in a depressed way, and had in fact been actively planning the attack at this time, the court heard.

“As far as I am able to tell, you are absent of any empathy for your victims,” the Judge added.

“You present as a deeply impaired person, motivated by a base hatred for people you perceive to be different from yourself.”

Brenton Tarrant is assisted to his seat in the dock at the High Court at Christchurch for sentencing after pleading guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism. Source: Pool Photo

The Judge then began to openly rebuke the terrorist in court, saying he did not appear to be either contrite or ashamed.

“You remain entirely self-absorbed, and you have offered no apology for the harm you have caused,” he said.

“Your focus appears to be on yourself, and the position you find yourself in.”

He added the attempt to perpetuate terrorism and racism had come to nothing.

“You failed,” he said.

“In the name of a political or ideological cause, you sought to violently intimidate the community.

“Your design was to divide but the public’s response was to stand with the people of the community, with their fellow New Zealanders.”

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Ahad Nabi, son of Haji-Daoud Nabi, gave a highly-charged victim impact statement in the High Court at Christchurch. Source: 1 NEWS

Earlier today, Crown prosecutor Mark Zarifeh paused for composure at times as he called for a sentence of life without parole, saying “the enormity of the offending in this case is without comparison” in New Zealand.

He said the case was “undoubtably” one envisaged by Parliament when it enacted the laws allowing this kind of punishment for the worst murders, and Tarrant was “New Zealand’s worst murderer”.

“A person who has committed mass murder and terrorism based on racist ideology would undoubtably meet this criteria,” he said.

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“He has caused permanent and immeasurable suffering and harm to the victims’ families, the Muslim community and New Zealand.”

Tarrant had shown “extreme violence”, “cruelty” and “callousness”, carrying out detailed planning for the events with the intention to inflict maximum casualty, and targeting the victims while they were vulnerable in a place of worship, the prosecutor said.

Mr Zarifeh added Tarrant had shot at numerous victims from behind who were unaware of his presence, and carried out “what can only be described as an execution of a three-year-old child”.

The terrorist had fired into the corners of the mosque while worshipers were huddled together and “there was nowhere to escape”, he said.

The actions were a “painful and harrowing mark in New Zealand’s history”, he said.

Tarrant had admitted the offending to police and later, in a Corrections advice report, described the offending as “abhorrent” and “irrational” and told the writer “nothing good came from it”, Mr Zarifeh said.

The killer also claimed “the political views he had were not real” and had said he was incredibly unhappy at the time, the court heard. The terrorist stated he felt “ostracised by society” and he wanted to damage it.

However, a probation report had found the offender shows no remorse for his actions, no empathy for his victims, and is dismissive of the ideological ideas that had led to the offending.

His guilty plea did not alter matters, and his admission of guilt when interviewed by police was intended to further his offending, by laying claim to what he had done, the prosecutor submitted.

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The Christchurch mosque gunman was confronted with anger by families of the victims. Source: 1 NEWS

Standby lawyer Philip Hall, who has been appointed to assist the court after Tarrant fired his own representation in July, said he had been given one instruction by the killer.

“Tarrant does not oppose the application that he should be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole,” he said.

“There are no further submissions.”

Justice Cameron Mander then addressed Tarrant directly, asking if he wished to make any comments in his own defence, as is his right under New Zealand law.

The killer simply replied, “no, thank you”.

Justice Mander asked him again if he wished to make any further comments to the standby lawyer.

He again simply said, “no”.

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Amicus curiae Kerry Cook, who has also been appointed to assist the Court in the absence of lawyers defending Tarrant, highlighted how the guilty pleas had given “substantial benefit”, as it had stopped the painful reliving of the experiences at trial.

He called for some “tangible credit” for those pleas, saying there had been “movement” in Tarrant’s views and there was now some “residual hope” of rehabilitation.

The killer had told one expert he is remorseful and regrets executing his attack, saying he no longer identifies with the beliefs he once held, the independent lawyer said.

Mr Cook then argued life imprisonment without parole should not be issued, saying it was inconsistent with “fundamental human rights” provisions and was inhumane. There was precedent in international law, including that of offenders committed of “heinous war crimes”, which showed that stripping any offender of the hope of rehabilitation was wrong, he said.

He acknowledged Parliament had allowed for the sentence to be given, but said it violated the Bill of Rights, and the two were inconsistent with each other. 

“There is no hope for the prisoner, which is inconsistent with human dignity,” he said.

Finally, he called for a sentence of life in prison with a lengthy non-parole period, allowing for the hope, “however faint”, of rehabilitation.