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New Zealand Gives Christchurch Gunman a Life Sentence

2020-08-28 22:36:03
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SYDNEY, Australia — Brenton Tarrant doctored triggers to make his weapons fire faster and be more lethal. He used a strobe light to disorient his victims. And after murdering 51 Muslims during Friday Prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last year, he told the police he wished he had killed even more.

On Thursday, his campaign of hate finally ended: A judge in the resilient city where he had waged his terrorism sentenced him to life in prison without any chance of parole.

While the grieving and wounded watched with a mix of anger, defiance and relief, Mr. Tarrant, 29, an Australian with thinning hair and inscrutable eyes, was hauled away to face the certainty of dying behind bars. He is the first criminal in New Zealand ever sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for release — the country’s most severe punishment.

“If he still has any human feeling, he will die in guilt and remorse,” said Gamal Fouda, the imam of Al Noor mosque, where Mr. Tarrant killed 44 people. “I think he will die out of loneliness, thinking about what he did to us and his mother, his grandmother, his family.”

“We are getting support,” he added. “He lost himself forever.”

The sentence in New Zealand’s worst mass murder was handed down by Justice Cameron Mander to a courtroom of total silence after three intense days of heartbreaking and defiant testimony by victims. In all, 91 statements were delivered in court before a rotating group of socially distanced survivors and witnesses who also filled seven additional courtrooms in the modern High Court building in downtown Christchurch.

Upon hearing there would be no possibility of parole, many smiled through tears.

“Your actions were inhuman,” the judge told Mr. Tarrant, adding: “To my observation, you remain entirely self-absorbed.”

Mr. Tarrant did not respond. Forgoing a chance to address the court beyond confirming that he did not oppose a sentence of life in prison without parole, he listened to all, revealing his thoughts to none.

He seemed to be a man deflated from the moment the sentencing hearing began on Monday, when he shuffled into Courtroom 12 wearing an oatmeal-colored sweatshirt and surrounded by guards. Compared with his early court appearances, he looked weaker and far slighter of frame, a development his victims considered appropriate.

“It was good to see that he was being punished in there,” said Mustafa Bostaz, 22, an engineering student who was shot in the leg and liver at Al Noor mosque. “Losing that weight, I think, is a sign he’s suffering.”

Closure and healing were what many of the survivors grasped for, and could not quite reach. Their anguish and outrage seemed to build with every hour.

Many of the victims’ statements were visceral, describing in great detail what assault weapons do to human flesh.

On Wednesday, Zuhair Darwish, whose brother Kamal was shot dead at Al Noor, told the court he wished that New Zealand would allow for capital punishment. Raising his voice, he shouted at Mr. Tarrant: “You will pay for what you did, in this life and another.”

Mr. Tarrant’s actions came to be framed by many as a failure. He told the police his aim was to instill fear in the Muslim community. According to the statement of facts presented in court, he had intended to attack three mosques and burn them down after shooting as many people as he could, with the idea of dividing white people from non-European immigrants.

Within days of the shooting, the country of five million people — a pair of Pacific islands with a well-established gun culture in rural areas — banned the military-style assault rifles that Mr. Tarrant had bought legally for mass murder.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also started a global campaign against online extremism, hoping to prevent others from livestreaming violence, as Mr. Tarrant did during his rampage, and to curb other forms of online hate.

Her efforts have helped lead to new restrictions on social media in many countries, including Australia, and on Thursday, Ms. Ardern said she hoped that the victims “felt the arms of New Zealand around you, and I hope you continue to feel that through all the days that follow.”

The pain and suffering, the economic consequences and the ubiquity of loss from Mr. Tarrant’s actions will linger.

“The damage he caused to this nation was heinous; no one will forget,” said Mr. Fouda, the imam from Al Noor.

But, he added, one message in particular must be remembered: “This person wanted to divide us, but he couldn’t,” he said. “Now he is the loser, and we are the winners.”

Damien Cave reported from Sydney, and Amanda Saxton from Christchurch, New Zealand.

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