The Australian man charged with killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in March pleaded not guilty to all charges in court on Friday, significantly delaying the resolution of what appeared to be a clear-cut mass murder case. He will now stand trial next May.
The suspect, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, is accused of committing the nation’s worst ever peacetime shooting, which he broadcast live on Facebook, and is presumed to have been motivated by his self-proclaimed white supremacist beliefs. He faces 92 charges of murder, attempted murder, and one terrorism charge. A court-mandated mental health assessment found he was fit to stand trial.
According to reports from the hearing, Tarrant, appearing via video link from prison, grinned when his attorney entered the pleas, and several members of the public—a large number came from the city’s Muslim community—gasped or broke into tears.
Friday’s trial saw an additional charge of murder after one victim died from his wounds in May. The terror charge was also added Friday, and according to the Guardian, it is the first time a suspect has been charged under the country’s terrorism suppression act, which was introduced after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Now, many survivors of the shootings and victims’ families will have to sit through a lengthy trial process. According to Reuters, the trial’s start date of May 4, 2020, is further than normal in criminal cases in New Zealand because of the “scale and complexity” of the crime.
As the New York Times noted, New Zealand’s court system will now have to weigh how to handle the trial in a way that prevents Tarrant from using it as a megaphone for his hateful and violent beliefs.
The shooting rattled the island nation, which swiftly passed legislation aimed at curbing access to firearms. The new laws banned semi-automatic weapons, which Tarrant used in the shooting.