Victims' families were indignant after the man accused of attacking people at two Christchurch mosques pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism and 51 murders. Silent during the hearing, his smirks angered survivors.
Brenton Tarrant's lawyers on Friday entered not-guilty pleas to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one terrorism charge at the Christchurch High Court.
In an attack broadcast live on Facebook, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on March 15. It was New Zealand's worst peacetime mass shooting and led to substantial changes in the country's gun laws.
Fit for trial
Mental health assessments found Tarrant fit to stand trial.
"No issue arises regarding the defendant's fitness to plead, to instruct counsel, and to stand his trial. A fitness hearing is not required," Judge Cameron Mander said in a statement issued shortly after the hearing.
The 28-year-old Australian appeared via video link from a small room at the maximum security prison in Auckland where he's being held. His link had been muted, and he did not try to speak.
Wearing a gray sweatshirt, Tarrant, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, smirked as his lawyer entered the pleas but otherwise showed little emotion.
Survivors angry over suspect's smirks
In the March 15 attacks, 42 people were killed at the Al Noor mosque and seven were killed at the Linwood mosque during Friday prayers. Two more died later at the Christchurch Hospital.
Some 80 survivors and relatives of those killed were in the courtroom while another 60 watched proceedings on a video feed from a nearby room. Some of those on hand expressed anger over the defendant's smirks during the hearing.
"It just shows he's an animal," Mustafa Boztas, who was wounded in the thigh, told the AFP news agency. "I feel sad that someone can be so inhuman and take the lives of innocent people."
Janna Ezat wore a shirt that she'd designed which featured an image of her son Hussein Al-Umari, who was killed in the attacks.
"Before I was OK and calm and believe in this life my son died and he is in a good place," she told the Associated Press. "But when I saw the terrorist, he was just, he's nothing. Just sitting like that. Pretending that he's innocent and nothing is wrong.
"It's not easy to lose your child. Not only my child, but 50 people," Ezat said. "It's unfair. It's unfair. And he was laughing."
Mander scheduled a six-week trial beginning next May. Tarrant will be remanded in custody until August 16, when a case review is scheduled.
Mander barred news outlets from taking photographs or video of Tarrant's appearance on Friday.
sms/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP)