A 29-year-old Australian gunman who was responsible for the killing of 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 was sentenced to life in prison with parole on Thursday. The first-of-its-kind verdict was announced after the final hearing of the case at the High Court in Christchurch. Brenton Harrison Tarran was sentenced on 40 attempted murder charges, 51 murder charges, and one terrorism charge.

Acknowledging the strength of the Muslim community, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said after the sentencing that, "You relieved the horrific events of March 15 to chronicle what happened that day and the pain it has left behind. 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."

Brenton Harrison Tarrant
Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the man who killed 51 people in Christchurch Twitter

Unleashing Mayhem

A total of 91 victims or their families gave impact statements at the hearing that started on Monday. According to the description of the shooting read at the court, "the defendant turned to his right and fired 32 shots from his AR-15 into the mass of people in the northeastern corner of the room".

The rate of fire was extremely high and the defendant moved the AR-15 across and back many times." Tarrant murdered 44 people at the Al Noor Mosque and killed seven more at the nearby Linwood Mosque. He also injured 40 others in the mass shootings, according to the prosecutor Mark Zarifeh who called Tarrant "New Zealand's worst murderer".

The gunman conducted research of the view of the Al Noor Mosque by flying a drone over the mosque in January 2019. "The planned time for entry was to ensure the maximum number of worshippers would be present," the summary presented at the court said.

First-of-its-kind Verdict

According to his interview with the police, Tarrant said he had planned to burn down the mosques and wanted to "inflict as many fatalities as possible". He was on the way to another mosque in Ashburton, 85 km southwest of Christchurch, to carry out another attack when he was stopped by the police.

Jail
Representational Picture Pxfuel

It is the first time the sentence of life imprisonment without parole has been handed down in New Zealand. The country's law allowing criminals to be imprisoned for life was created in 2010. The harshest previous sentence in New Zealand was life imprisonment with a 30-year non-parole period in 2001.

The defendant did not oppose the sentence and showed no reaction at court. While describing the shootings as "brutal and beyond callous", Justice Cameron Mander said: "Your crimes are so wicked that even if you are detained until you die, it would not exhaust the requirements of punishment and denunciation."

Pleading Guilty to All Charges

Before announcing the verdict, Justice Mander asked the gunman if he wished to make his statement, to which he replied "no, thank you", without any emotions. The accused pleaded not guilty to all the charges during hearings last year, but entered guilty pleas to all the charges in March, the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attack.

She called March 15, 2019 "the darkest day" in New Zealand history. Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel praised the courage of the mosque attack victims who addressed the High Court this week at the sentencing of the mass shooter.

"Since the atrocious act of terror unfolded in our city on March 15, 2019, our Muslim community has taught us much about peace, love, compassion and forgiveness. They gave us another lesson this week as they came face-to-face with the terrorist. "They showed enormous courage and delivered their incredibly moving testimony with dignity and grace," Dalziel said in a statement.

(With inputs from agencies)