Saturday 17 August 2019

Judge orders mental health tests for accused New Zealand mosque shooter

Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant’s next court hearing is scheduled for June 14.

The Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand (Mark Baker/AP)
The Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand (Mark Baker/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

A New Zealand judge has ordered that the man accused of killing 50 people at two New Zealand mosques undergo two mental health tests to determine if he is fit to enter pleas in the case.

High Court judge Cameron Mander made the order during a hearing in which 28-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared via video link from a small room at the maximum security Paremoremo prison in Auckland.

Tarrant was wearing handcuffs and a grey-coloured jumper when he appeared on a large screen inside the Christchurch courtroom, which was packed with family members and victims of the shooting, some in wheelchairs and hospital gowns and still recovering from gunshot wounds.

Tarrant showed no emotion during the hearing.

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An armed police office stands guard outside the entrance to the High Court in Christchurch (Mark Baker/AP)

At times he looked around the room or cocked his head, seemingly to better hear what was being said.

The judge explained that from his end, Tarrant could see the judge and lawyers but not those in the public gallery.

Tarrant spoke only once to confirm to the judge he was seated, although his voice did not come through because the sound was muted.

It was not immediately clear if his link had been deliberately or inadvertently muted.

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A man in a wheelchair is escorted from outside the High Court in Christchurch (Mark Baker/AP)

Judge Mander said nothing should be read into his order for the mental health assessments, as it was a normal step in such a case. Lawyers said it could take two or three months to complete.

The courtroom was filled with more than two dozen reporters and about 60 members of the public. A court registrar greeted people in Arabic and English as the hearing got under way. Some of those watching got emotional and wept.

The judge said Tarrant was charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder. Police initially filed a single, representative murder charge before filing the additional charges this week.

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets members of the Muslim community following a national remembrance service (Mark Baker/AP)

In the March 15 attacks, 42 people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, seven were killed at the Linwood mosque and one more person died later.

The day after the attacks, Tarrant dismissed an appointed lawyer, saying he wanted to represent himself. But he has now hired two Auckland lawyers to represent him, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson.

The next court hearing was scheduled for June 14, and the mental health findings would determine whether he is required to enter a plea then.

Outside the courtroom, Yama Nabi, whose father died in the attacks, said he felt helpless watching.

“We just have to sit in the court and listen,” Mr Nabi said. “What can we do? We can’t do nothing. Just leave it to the justice of New Zealand and the prime minister.”

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