Man who killed 51 Muslim worshippers facing rest of life in jail

The mosque shooter is expected to spend the rest of his life in jail, almost certainly in New Zealand.

Brenton Tarrant, 29, appeared by video link in the High Court at Christchurch on Thursday to plead guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism charges arising from a massacre at Christchurch mosques in March last year.

A sentencing date may be known by his next court appearance which will be May 1 at the earliest. He had previously pleaded not guilty.

While some commentators have speculated about the gunman serving his New Zealand-imposed sentence in Australia – his country of birth and where his mother and sister live – Australia seems to have ruled it out.

A spokesperson for Australia’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter, said the Australian Government could transfer prisoners only from a country which was recognised as a ‘transfer country’.

Nigel Hampton QC say the mosque shooter should prepare for a life of solitary confinement.
Nigel Hampton QC say the mosque shooter should prepare for a life of solitary confinement.

New Zealand was not a ‘transfer country’ under the relevant laws as it did not have any agreement or arrangement for prisoner transfers with Australia.

Last year Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern indicated she would seek advice on a deportation option but she declined to comment at a press conference on Friday.

Nigel Hampton QC, who has been legal counsel in some of New Zealand’s most serious cases and has also championed prisoner rights, said a sentence of life without parole for the gunman was inevitable.

“It will truly be life, his natural life,” said Hampton, who could not recall any other New Zealand case where the sentence has been imposed.

Even if it was theoretically possible for Tarrant to be deported to serve his sentence in Australia, Hampton said he could not see it happening.

“The argument that he committed the crime in New Zealand and should be incarcerated in our system has considerable force,” he said.

The fact the mosque gunman had pleaded guilty a year after the shootings and spared victims and the state a trial might be taken into account by the sentencing judge but he was doubtful it would make any difference to the sentence, Hampton said.

Brenton Tarrant is awaiting sentence sentence after pleading guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism charges.
Brenton Tarrant is awaiting sentence sentence after pleading guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism charges.

The shooter’s lawyer might gain some traction if he could show Tarrant had had a change of heart and wanted to show remorse and atone.

“It’s hard to see what can be said in mitigation unless he can show a genuine change or some deep-seated psychological problem.”

If the gunman served his time in New Zealand, he would probably remain in the maximum security unit at Paremoremo Prison in Auckland, where he would be kept in solitary confinement and under close watch, Hampton said.

Even if he was not a risk to himself, he would always be at risk if he associated with other inmates, he said.

“The prison management have a duty of care to provide for his welfare and although he might well say he wants to be in an open wing, prison managers will have a duty to keep him separate.”

Tarrant would continue to be a target in prison due to number of factors including the scale and deliberateness of the killings, Hampton said.

“Other inmates will be in jail for killing people but they might see that as legitimate in the context of a battle or gang warfare. They won’t see what he did, particularly to people of colour, as being in any way legitimate.”

He would also be seen as a foreigner who came to New Zealand to kill New Zealanders who were at prayer.

“Inmates have their own moral code and some crimes are seen as more despicable than others and they will effect their own retribution.”

Hampton said anybody who harmed Tarrant might also gain status in the prison community.

He could not see the Department of Corrections providing any sort of privileges to allow the gunman to cope with his long sentence.

While Anders Breivik, the Norwegian killer who murdered 77 people in a car bombing in central Oslo and shooting spree on Utoeya island in 2011, had three cells – an office, a gym and a bedroom, Tarrant would not be treated any differently to other high security, long term prisoners.

“There might well be an outcry.”

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