FILE PHOTO: People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday’s shooting, in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo.
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Australian man accused of killing 51 worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand in March pleaded not guilty to all charges in a court on Friday.
In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, the lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15, in New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass shooting.
Brenton Tarrant, 29, appeared by video link and entered his plea through his lawyers.
High Court Justice Cameron Mander said the trial will begin on May 4 next year.
Judge Mander said that courts usually endeavored to bring cases to trial within a year of the event, but that “the scale and complexity of this case makes this challenging”
Tarrant has been remanded in custody until Aug. 16 when a case review hearing is scheduled.
Tarrant faces a total of 92 charges after New Zealand filed two additional attempted murder charges, one murder charge, and one terrorism charge. This is the first time a terrorism charge has been brought in New Zealand.
Tarrant stood facing the camera from a high-security facility in Auckland, mostly with an impassive expression but smirking at times including as his lawyer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
Around 80 members of Christchurch’s Muslim community sat in the back of the court, solemn and quiet throughout the appearance. There were some quiet gasps when the not guilty plea was entered by Tarrant’s lawyer.
At the last hearing on April 5, the court had ordered Tarrant to undergo mental assessment first to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.
The Judge said on Friday that there were no issues arising from mental health assessments and the defendant is fit to stand trial.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Writing by Praveen Menon; editing by Grant McCool and Sandra Maler)