WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A New Zealand judge sentenced white supremacist Brenton Tarrant to life in prison without parole on Thursday for killing 51 Muslim worshippers in the country’s deadliest shooting, saying the sentence was not enough punishment for the “wicked” crimes.
It was the first time a court in New Zealand had sentenced a person to prison for the rest of their life.
Christchurch High Court Judge Cameron Mander said Tarrant had shown no remorse and that no matter how long he spent in prison it would not be long enough to atone for his crimes.
“Your crimes…are so wicked that even if you are detained until you die it will not exhaust the requirements of punishment and denunciation,” said the judge in handing down the sentence.
“As far as I am able to gauge, you are empty of any empathy for your victims,” he said.
Tarrant, a 29-year-old Australian, admitted to 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act during the 2019 shooting rampage at two Christchurch mosques which he livestreamed on Facebook.
On March 15, 2019 Tarrant stormed the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch armed with military-style semi-automatics, indiscriminately shooting at Muslims gathered for Friday prayers, while filming his massacre from a head-mounted camera and playing a Serbian anti-Muslim anthem.
He killed 44 people at Al Noor, the youngest a three-year-old boy shot at point blank range, then attacked a second mosque in the nearby suburb of Linwood, killing another seven people.
Judge Mander asked Tarrant before handing down the sentence if he had any comment. Dressed in grey prison clothes and surrounded by guards, Tarrant nodded when asked if he was aware he had the right to make submissions, but he did not speak.
NZ MUSLIMS WELCOME JUSTICE
“Today the legal procedures for this heinous crime have been done. No punishment will bring our loved ones back,” said Gamal Fouda, the imam of Al Noor mosque which was targeted.
“Extremists are all the same. Whether they use religion, nationalism or any other ideology. All extremists, they represent hate. But we are here today. We respect love, compassion, Muslim and non-Muslim people of faith and of no faith.”
Prosecutors said Tarrant had accumulated more than 7,000 rounds of ammunition for the attack and wanted to instill fear in those he described as invaders and that he carefully planned the attacks to cause maximum carnage.
“The hatred that lies at the heart of your hostility to particular members of the community that you came to this country to murder has no place here – it has no place anywhere,” Mander said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was relieved that “that person will never see the light of day”.
“The trauma of March 15 is not easily healed but today I hope is the last where we have any cause to hear or utter the name of the terrorist behind it. His deserves to be a lifetime of complete and utter silence,” she said.
The attack led to a ban on firearms in New Zealand and a campaign against hate content online led by Ardern, a response that was hailed as a model for other countries.
More than 90 survivors and families of the victims gave emotionally charged statements in court this week calling for Tarrant to be sentenced to life without parole. Many gathered in and outside the court on Thursday to hear the sentence.
“It’s a relief…We are not in a country where we can expect the death penalty. But they have served justice…giving the maximum prison time without parole,” said Hina Amir, 34, who was outside Al Noor mosque when Tarrant attacked and survived a hail of bullets in her car with her husband, Amir Daud.
The crime received wide attention around the Muslim world and on Thursday Turkey’s foreign ministry noted “with pleasure” that the heaviest available punishment had been applied for an attack which killed one and wounded two Turkish citizens.
“The verdict reminded the world once again the need for the international community to fight jointly against all acts and ideologies based on Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism and hatred.”
DESIRE TO CREATE TERROR
Tarrant, who represented himself during the hearings but did not make submissions, said through a lawyer in court on Thursday that he did not oppose the prosecution’s application for a life without parole sentence.
He asserted in a pre-sentence report that he was not racist or xenophobic, the judge said. Rather, Tarrant said he felt ostracised and had wanted to damage society, and had acted on delusional beliefs.
However, state prosecutor Mark Zarifeh had told the court: “The offending was motivated by an entrenched racist and xenophobic ideology and a desire to create terror within the Muslim community and beyond.”
Before Tarrant, triple-murderer William Bell was serving the longest sentence in New Zealand with a minimum non-parole prison term of 30 years for his 2001 crimes.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon, Jonathan Barrett, Tom Westbrook and Dominic Evans; Editing by Michael Perry and Stephen Coates)