CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – The white supremacist who slaughtered 51 worshippers at two New Zealand mosques was condemned Thursday to life in jail without the chance of parole, the first time the maximum available sentence has been imposed.
Judge Cameron Mander said the crimes committed by 29-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant were evil to such an extent that a lifetime in prison couldn’t start to offer reparations for them. He said they had caused tremendous misfortune and harmed and originated from twisted and malignant ideology.
“Your actions were inhuman,” Mander said. “You deliberately killed a 3-year-old infant by shooting him in the head as he clung to the leg of his father.”
After the sentence was announced, survivors of the shootings raised hands and fists in celebration and greeted supporters waving signs with painted hearts and carrying roses outside the court building.
The March 2019 attacks targeting people praying at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch shocked New Zealand and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. They also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman live-streamed his attack on Facebook.
During the four-day sentencing hearing, 90 survivors and family members recounted the horror of that day and the trauma they continue to feel. One of those who spoke was Temel Atacocugu, who survived being shot nine times during the attack at the Al Noor mosque.
Atacocugu said he felt relieved at the sentence.
“Finally we can breathe freely, and we feel secure, and my kids feel secure,” Atacocugu said. “The justice system has locked up this ideology forever.”
Tarrant in March pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism, reversing his earlier not guilty pleas.
He fired his lawyers and told the judge he didn’t wish to speak at his sentencing. A standby lawyer appointed by the court told the judge that Tarrant did not oppose the maximum sentence.
The judge said that Tarrant recently told a psychiatrist that he now rejects his extremist views and considers his attacks “abhorrent and irrational.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was praised globally for her empathy and leadership after the attacks, said the crime was still raw for many.
“Nothing will take the pain away but I hope you felt the arms of New Zealand around you through this whole process, and I hope you continue to feel that through all the days that follow,” Ardern said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was sending his love across to New Zealand. He said the world must never see or hear from the gunman ever again.
A Nine Network television news crew spoke to Tarrant’s mother, Sharon Tarrant, after the sentencing near his New South Wales hometown of Grafton in Australia but said she declined to comment.
New Zealand abolished the death penalty for murder in 1961. Since then, the maximum non-parole sentence had been 30 years for a triple murder.
Photo credit: AP
News source: The Associated Press