Life sentence: Mosque gunman will never be released from jail

Author
Anna Leask and Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 27 Aug 2020, 2:00PM
People gathered outside court this morning. Photo / Amber Allott
People gathered outside court this morning. Photo / Amber Allott

Life sentence: Mosque gunman will never be released from jail

Author
Anna Leask and Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 27 Aug 2020, 2:00PM

He is a terrorist, an inhumane and wicked mass killer – a "monster" and "undoubtedly" New Zealand's "worst murderer".

And now Brenton Harrison Tarrant will never be released from prison, spending the rest of his life behind bars without any possibility of parole.

He has today been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole – meaning he will never, ever be freed.

It is the first time in New Zealand history this sentence has been imposed.

On March 15 2019 the 29-year-old Australian stormed two Christchurch mosques during Friday prayer and opened fire on men, women and children worshipping.

As a result of his attack 51 people died and 40 were wounded.

He initially pleaded not guilty to his offending but later changed his mind and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one of engaging in a terrorist act laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

Sentencing for the mass murderer started on Monday in the High Court at Christchurch before Justice Cameron Mander.

Key points from today's sentencing include:

-The Crown pushed for life without parole for "clearly New Zealand's worst murderer".
-Tarrant did not oppose being locked up for life.
-He claimed in a pre-sentence report that he was not racist or xenophobic.
-He said his political and social views at the time weren't real, saying he felt ostracised and had wanted to damage society.
-But he accepted it was without doubt a terror attack.
-The Crown said it was clearly ideologically driven, saying Tarrant was a dangerous narcissist who warranted a life without parole.

THE CROWN: LOCK HIM UP FOR LIFE

By law Tarrant – described by victims in court this week as gutless, evil, cowardly, heinous and disgusting – had to be sentenced to life in prison and a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

However the Crown sought a sentence of life with no parole.

Over the last three days Justice Mander heard impact statements from 91 victims – people shot, people who witnessed the massacre and family members of those murdered and wounded.

Many begged him to keep Tarrant locked up forever.

This morning Justice Mander opened court at 10.14am and heard submissions from Christchurch Crown Solicitor Mark Zarifeh.

Zarifeh told a packed public gallery, where victims clutched white roses, that Tarrant, convicted of 51 murders, was "clearly New Zealand's worst murderer".

The "calculated sadism and depravity" in the mass terror attack cannot be overstated, Zarifeh said.

"The enormity of the offending in this case is without comparison in New Zealand's legal history," he said.

"He had a desire to create terror in the Muslim community and beyond.

"These were meticulously-planned attacks with the aim of executing as many people as possible.

"He caused permanent and immeasurable suffering and harm to victims and families, the Muslim community and New Zealand."

Family and survivors from the March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings line up to enter Christchurch High Court. Photo / AP

Family and survivors from the March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings line up to enter Christchurch High Court. Photo / AP

Zarifeh referenced other high-profile murders where record minimum non parole periods had been imposed.

Life without parole has never been imposed before in New Zealand.

But there has been two previous cases – both also in Christchurch - where the Crown has sought it before, citing the example of double child killer Jeremy McLaughlin where it was declined by "a narrow margin".

"The Crown sought life without parole however Justice Pankhurst said while it was on the brink of meeting the threshold… it did not cross the line," explained Zarifeh.

Paul Pounamu Tainui also narrowly escaped life without parole after murdering Nicole Marie Tuxford, 27, while on parole for the 1994 killing of his ex-girlfriend Kimberly Jean Schroder.

"It has been narrowly declined for much less offending," said Zarifeh today.

He also compared Tarrant's case to the Port Arthur massacre.

The convicted Australian mass shooter Martin Bryant was jailed "for the rest of his natural life" and an order made that he was never to be eligible for parole.

Zarifeh said the attacks were "extensively planned an premeditated" with Tarrant purchasing firearms, learning to use them, researching the mosques and visiting Al Noor, writing the manifesto and uploading the livestream to the internet.

"The offender demonstrated a determination in carrying out his plan… he shot people only to systematically fire at them at close range," he said.

"It was effectively a tactical operation."

Zarifeh said the victims were vulnerable and the location of the offending was significant.

"It cannot be overlooked… the mosques were… places of safety," he said.

"Many of those shot were on their knees at prayer with their backs to the offender, they were clearly vulnerable."

Tarrant showed "extreme violence, cruelty and callousness".

"The offender chose weapons and planned event sin such a way so as to inflict maximum casualty… he shot at numerous victims from behind who were unaware of his approach and unable to escape - including what can only be described as the execution of a 3-year-old child," said Zarifeh.

"He fire into corners… there was no were to escape."

In a pre-sentence report, Tarrant told the writer his attack was "non-personal and chaotic".

Zarifeh said the "calculated sadism and depravity" could not be overstated.

"His intention was to carry out mass murder… and to inflict extreme fear, casualty and loss on the Muslin and non-Caucasian population," he told the court.

"The offending has caused immense loss of harm and permanent life altering physical and psychological trauma to the survivors.

"The harm to the survivors, the victim families, the Muslim community and the rest of New Zealand who stand in solidarity with the victims irreparable."

Zarifeh said life without parole was a "proper and necessary sentencing option" and "a painful mark on New Zealand's history".

Tarrant sat in the dock listening to the Crown submissions, his face expressionless.

The Crown said the case filled all four categories required for life without parole, including holding the offender accountable, denunciation, deterring the offender and others from committing the same offence, and protecting the community.

THE KILLER: I'M NOT A RACIST

A report prepared from Corrections in April this year said Tarrant's statements were often paradoxical and was noted as showing no remorse.

Tarrant, who has no previous criminal convictions, talked about his victims in the abstract, showing no concern for victims' families, and speaking in a manner of fact way about the attacks.

However, he also described the offending as "unnecessary, abhorrent and irrational" and that "nothing good" came from the terror attack.

He said his political and social views he'd spouted to justify his actions were not real, claiming he had been in a "poisoned emotional state".

He wasn't happy at the time, feeling ostracised and that he'd wanted to damage society in an act of revenge. But he also described it as "definitely an act of terrorism".

Tarrant denied being racist or xenophobic, although he accepted he targeted a religion but went on to claim he had no issue with Islam.

The psychologist considered the reliability of Tarrant's "changing narrative" questionable.

"He may return to his original views and plan another 'laudable' end to his life," the expert wrote in the report.

 

Despite claiming he had abandoned his ideological beliefs, Tarrant had "shown himself capable of careful planning of extreme violence over extended time periods".

"The possibility of terrorist acts - albeit in prison - should not be discounted," the report said.

Zarifeh said the extent to which Tarrant was "insightful or honest" with the report writers was "difficult to gauge".

"Other sources provided information that was in conflict with the offender's own account," said Zarifeh.

"His distillation of his account shows longstanding views… a hatred toward immigrant Muslim population in the time leading up to the offending."

THE CASE: IS THERE HOPE FOR REHABILITATION?

A probation report assessed his risk of harm as "very high" and Tarrant admitted to that writer that he "could not control his impulse to offend".

He dismissed any suggestion of rehabilitation – saying he "does not want help" and no professional had the skill to help him.

Rather, he was the only person who could psycho analyse himself.

Zarifeh said his admission of guilty was not about taking responsibility.

It was simply for "attention seeking and glorification".

"His immediate acceptance of responsibility was less about wrongdoing and more about credit… it was matter of fact and unemotional both on day and to the report writer," said Zarifeh.

"Although he has expressed remorse for his offending to the psychiatrist… of the view true depth was difficult to gauge.

"He was clearly ideologically driven.

"He now denies being racist or xenophobic but the credibility of these claims is doubtful.

"The fact he was radicalised and had the ability and commitment to carry out such horrendous offending is highly relevant to need for public protection."

Zarifeh said Tarrant was "narcissistic" and had "cognitive distortions" about his offending.

While his lack of insight remains, Tarrant poses a significant risk of reoffending, the Crown says.

Zarifeh says there were major concerns that he could ever safely be released back into the community.

Family and survivors from the March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings line up to enter Christchurch High Court. Photo / AP

The 51 murder convictions alone would warrant life without parole however the law points to the offending in general, and so should take in the 40 attempted murder charges and the terror charge

Zarifeh said it must be one of the clearest cases for life without parole New Zealand has ever had, and hopefully will ever have.

Zarifeh said his acceptance of responsibility from the time of his arrest derives from a pride of his offending rather than any expression of remorse.

Despite completely and overwhelming evidence, which included a full confession and the Go Pro footage that was clearly intended to identify him as the offender, he defended the charges for over a year including a chance of venue application twice and arguing over admissibility issues.

The nature of the offending completely overruns his guilty pleas, Zarifeh said.

Zarifeh said a whole of life sentence was "clearly intended for the worst murders".

"The sentence is consistent with one of the Sentencing Act principles that the court must impose the maximum penalty if the offending the most serious of cases," he said.

"In closing… the offender should be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

"The present case is one envisaged by parliament when the law was enacted.

"A person who has committed mass murder and terrorism based on racist ideology would undoubtedly meet this criteria.

"In my submission this is that case."


TARRANT: NO OPPOSITION TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE

Pip Hall QC – who was assigned as stand-by counsel for Tarrant after he sacked his legal team – made a brief submission on behalf of the convicted mass murderer.

Hall told Justice Mander that he had received just one instruction from Tarrant.

"That instruction is that Mr Tarrant does not oppose the application that he should be sentenced to life in prison without parole," he said.

The news drew gasps from the public gallery.

Justice Mander formally asked Tarrant if he wanted to address the court.

"No, thank you," he said.

He checked that Tarrant understood his right to address the court.

Tarrant nodded and added, "Yes".

He confirmed he did not want any further time to discuss his position with Hall.

A bouquet of flowers sits outside Christchurch High Court ahead of day three of the sentencing hearing for Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant.

A bouquet of flowers sits outside Christchurch High Court ahead of day three of the sentencing hearing for Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant.

Justice Mander listed every person killed and wounded and, where the victim or their family had provided an impact statement, read to Tarrant what injuries he had inflicted and the ongoing effects his offending had.

"The people who you killed and wounded were not the only victims," he said.

"All those in the vicinity… and the Muslim community have suffered deeply.

"People witnessed scenes they should have not experienced."

Survivor guilty, fear, grief – all were common to those directly involved.

"Some have been devastated by what they went through and their lives forever altered.

"The mosques were places of sanctuary – this country too… was also seen as a place of refuge and safety."

Justice Mander said a result of Tarrant's terrorism was people were questioning their safety here and at their sacred places of worship.

"Your victims have shown extraordinary resilience," he said.

Flanked by four Corrections officers the diminutive killer in the grey and ill-fitting prison-issued polyester tracksuit sat and listened to proceedings, showing no emotion or reaction.

The judge then explained the role of lawyer Kerry Cook – appointed directly by Justice Mander in the role to assist the court and concentrate on the relevant law around life without parole.

His role is one of "contradictor to the Crown's position", Justice Mander explained, adding that Cook does not represent anyone and that he acts entirely independently of Tarrant or the Crown.

The judge then explained the role of lawyer Kerry Cook – appointed directly by Justice Mander in the role to assist the court and concentrate on the relevant law around life without parole.

His role is one of "contradictor to the Crown's position", Justice Mander explained, adding that Cook does not represent anyone and that he acts entirely independent of Tarrant or the Crown.

Cook said the court was "acutely aware" Tarrant was entitled to a fair court process regardless how "distasteful" his crimes were.

He said all, irrespective of conduct, had inherent human rights that should be enjoyed in all circumstances - -even those who ignore them to the catastrophic detriment of others.

His role was to ensure that the sentence "commands respect and has integrity" both in New Zealand and the world.

Nothing in his assessment was designed to undermine the loss and carnage caused by Tarrant.

He suggested a sentence of life in prison - but with a finite period.

It should be significant and Tarrant should only be let out if and when he had been properly and thoroughly rehabilitated.

He said the guilty plea – even without remorse – meant no one had to go through a lengthy, painful and expensive trial. That should be factored into the sentence.

He said Tarrant had shown remorse of late and expressed "repudiation of his hateful views".

"He is remorseful and regrets having executed his attack he no longer identifies with those beliefs," Cook said.

He said the public protection element was not diminished with a life sentence and imposition of minimum non parole period.

"Life does mean life if an undue risk was still present," Cook said.

There was a chance, he told the court, that Tarrant could be rehabilitated.

"Atonement is laudable… this court has seen that there has been some recalibration in terms of his ideology," he said.

"The views he held then are not the views that he holds now – and there may be some further shift in the future.

"Even during the year of his incarceration there has been movement in his views, including his offer to meet the victims in a restorative justice process.

"There is a prospect of rehabilitation… unlike others who have faced the prospect of life without parole, this prisoner has no previous convictions.

"That provides a residual hope for rehabilitation... the prospect of rehabilitation is realistic."

Cook said human behavior was the product of antecedent causes and could be corrected.

Tarrant should also have "the right to hope".

"A life sentence is inhumane and degrading," Cook posed.

He submitted that life without the possibility without parole went against the Bill of Rights Act which outlined a sentence should not be "torture", be incompatible with human dignity or "strip the prisoner of all hope".

"Drawing the threads together… there is hope, whatever faint, for rehabilitation," he said.

Justice Cameron Mander has handed down his sentence to Christchurch gunman Brenton Tarrant. Photo / Pool

Justice Cameron Mander has handed down his sentence to Christchurch gunman Brenton Tarrant. Photo / Pool

Justice Mander listed every person killed and wounded and, where the victim or their family had provided an impact statement, read to Tarrant what injuries he had inflicted and the ongoing effects his offending had.

"The people who you killed and wounded were not the only victims," he said.

"All those in the vicinity… and the Muslim community have suffered deeply.

"People witnessed scenes they should have not experienced."

Survivor guilty, fear, grief – all were common to those directly involved.

"Some have been devastated by what they went through and their lives forever altered.

"The mosques were places of sanctuary – this country too… was also seen as a place of refuge and safety."

Justice Mander said a result of Tarrant's terrorism was people were questioning their safety here and at their sacred places of worship.

"Your victims have shown extraordinary resilience," he said.

He turned to Tarrant, who he said chose New Zealand specifically for his heinous attack.

He said the Australian had an "unremarkable upbringing" and had no previous convictions.

He came to New Zealand and adopted an isolated lifestyle - living alone in rented accommodation and trawling far right websites, acquiring high powered firearms and large amounts of ammunition.

He travelled overseas in late 2018 but otherwise, his sole purpose of being in New Zealand was for the "planning and carrying out" of his plan to attack the Muslim community.

Justice Mander said Tarrant had "no apparent mental orders or psychiatric conditions" nor were any cognitive disorders present.

There was no evidence of a personality disorder – but his racist beliefs "developed and intensified" as he got older.

A psychologist said Tarrant "proudly" saw himself as a white European with air of superiority and grandiosity - which may reflect narcissistic traits.

He also told the psychologist that he no longer holds the beliefs – that they were "not real" and at the time of the attack he was in a "poisoned mental state" and was "terribly unhappy".

He was "ostracised by society and "wanted to damage society as act of revenge".

Tarrant told the psychologist he "wasn't thinking right at the time" and was "acting on delusional beliefs".

However Justice Mander said that simply did not wash with him.

"Your recent self-generated denunciation of your extreme ideology requires circumspection," he said.

"It's uncorroborated, self-serving and a relatively recent phenomenon."

"You have acknowledged that nothing good came from your crimes… you say it was abhorrent and irrational but it is not apparent you were genuinely remorseful."

Justice Mander said as far as he could gauge, Tarrant was "empty of any empathy" for his victims.

He remained "detached" and appeared entirely self-centred.

Brenton Tarrant in court during his sentencing on 51 murder, 40 attempted murder and one terrorism charge. Photo / Pool

Brenton Tarrant in court during his sentencing on 51 murder, 40 attempted murder and one terrorism charge. Photo / Pool