Mosque terrorist given life without parole

The Christchurch mosque terrorist has become the first person in New Zealand to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

For 29-year-old Brenton Harrison Tarrant, life will mean life. And the mass murderer agreed.

Standby counsel Pip Hall, QC, told the High Court at Christchurch this morning that he received one instruction from the defendant: not to oppose the indefinite sentence.

Tarrant had earlier admitted 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of engaging in a terrorist act, after the gunman attacked Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15 last year during Friday prayers.

The Australian-born gunman pleaded guilty unexpectedly in March this year.

Tarrant, who has remained almost emotionless throughout the week's proceedings and refused to address the court earlier today, remained impassive when Justice Cameron Mander delivered his sentence.

Victims and others were among the packed public gallery, many of whom were carrying white roses and photos of their loved ones.

Hundreds of people crowded behind barriers outside the courthouse to greet the victims as they emerged from hearing.

There was singing of the national anthem and Tu tira mai nga iwi while strangers warmly embraced.

Victims of the Christchurch terror attack Photo: RNZ
Victims of the Christchurch terror attack Photo: RNZ

'Brutal and beyond callous'

Justice Mander told Tarrant a term of life without parole had to be a proportionate response and could only be imposed where in the circumstances it was “clear and obvious”.

“If not here, then when?” he said.

“No minimum period of imprisonment would be sufficient to satisfy the legitimate need to hold you to account for the harm you've done to the community... You're not only a murderer, but a terrorist.”

The slaughter he said was “brutal and beyond callous - your actions were inhuman”. 

The judge also noted that in Tarrant's video commentary, he called the incident a “fire-fight”.

“The absurdity of that reflected your need to mask the truth of your cowardly massacre of people.”

Sentencing the gunman, Justice Cameron Mander said: “I consider you a dangerous criminal who...
Sentencing the gunman, Justice Cameron Mander said: “I consider you a dangerous criminal who demonstrably has no regard for human life." Photo: Pool via Reuters
The judge said the harm caused to the victims, anyone present at the mosques and the wider community were beyond measure.

“This country is considered one of the safest in the world... seen as a place of refuge and safety,” he said.

“I have very little doubt you chose to come to this country to target New Zealand's Muslim community for that very reason.”

The judge believed Tarrant was “empty of any empathy... entirely self-centred”.

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

NZ's worst murderer: Crown

Crown prosecutor Mark Zarifeh called Tarrant “clearly New Zealand's worst murderer” and said life behind bars without parole was the only appropriate penalty.

“The enormity of the offending in this case is without comparison in New Zealand's criminal history,” he said.

Tarrant had been interviewed by a probation officer, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, the court heard.

But his paradoxical responses would likely give no clarity or solace to his victims.

The gunman showed no remorse for the dead or those affected by his crimes, but also claimed he was not racist and had nothing against Muslims.

The defendant described his offending as “unnecessary, abhorrent and irrational” and said nothing good came from it.

Tarrant also told report writers the political and social views he used to justify the offending were “not real”.

However, he felt ostracised by society, he said, and wanted to cause damage as an act of revenge.

Health professionals said such contradictions made it near impossible to gauge his honesty and therefore his future risk to society.

Outside court, hundreds of people gathered to show their support for the victims and their...
Outside court, hundreds of people gathered to show their support for the victims and their families on Thursday. Photo: Rob Kidd

Gunman said he didn't want help

When asked about rehabilitation, Tarrant was dismissive. He said he did not want help and that professionals did not have the training or expertise to deal with him.

“If necessary, he said, he could psychoanalyse himself,” Mr Zarifeh noted.

The comments, he told Justice Mander, were “narcissistic and misguided”.

The killer spent at least 18 months, living in Dunedin, meticulously planning his despicable operation and committed the atrocities in just minutes.

Fifty-one dead, 40 injured.

The court spent the first three days of this week hearing nearly 100 victim-impact statements, a reflection of the unprecedented scale of the tragedy.

The judge today spent an hour today describing each of the lives lost – dentists, doctors, tradesmen, students; all loved - and the specific impact on those left behind.

For the first time this week too, the summary of facts was read in public – the official account of how the events of March 15 last year unfolded.

Tarrant's comments to police in the aftermath of the bloodshed had never previously been discussed but painted a vivid picture of a remorseless killer.

He told officers he wished he had killed more people and that he was planning to burn down the mosques after the shooting spree.

When the gunman was rammed off the road and apprehended by police, he confirmed he was on the way to the Ashburton mosque to target more worshippers there.

Mr Zarifeh referred to the highest ever minimum non-parole period imposed by the courts - 30 years for William Bell following the RSA murders in Panmure, Auckland, in 2001. He was convicted of three counts of murder, one of attempted murder and an aggravated robbery.

Tarrant far surpassed the magnitude of cases previously seen before the court, Mr Zarifeh said.

Because of the lack of case law in New Zealand, he also highlighted UK cases, such as that of Thomas Mair, who was given a whole-life sentence for the murder of Jo Cox MP - part of a far-right agenda.

Mr Zarifeh said the defendant's guilty plea should be viewed critically.

“[It was] derived from the pride he took in the offending rather than a true expression of remorse,” he said.

Al Noor Mosque shooting survivor Taj Mohammad Kamra celebrates as he leaves the High Court this...
Al Noor Mosque shooting survivor Taj Mohammad Kamra celebrates as he leaves the High Court this afternoon. Photo: Getty Images

'No regard for human life'

Amicus curiae (counsel assisting the court) Kerry Cook, however, said the pleas came in direct contrast to what Tarrant had said he would do in his manifesto.

It suggested his former extreme views may no longer be held.

Mr Cook underscored human rights reports which said the sentence of life without parole should be “repudiated and condemned” and was “inconsistent with human dignity”.

Justice Mander, though, rejected that argument.

The fact Tarrant pleaded guilty did not necessarily indicate remorse, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence against him, including a full confession.

“You appear neither contrite nor ashamed.”

Similarly, the defendant's lack of previous convictions could not change the sentence because of the scale of the offending and the preparation that went into it.

The public, Justice Mander said, had to be protected from someone capable of committing “cold-blooded murder on such a scale”.

“I consider you a dangerous criminal who demonstrably has no regard for human life."



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