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The alleged Australian gunman behind the Christchurch mosque attack may not face terrorism charges.
Legal experts in New Zealand say 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant may instead face multiple murder charges over Friday’s massacre, which left 50 people dead.
Not only would that curb Tarrant’s ability to grandstand during his trial, he will likely be sentenced to a longer minimum non-parole period if he’s found guilty.
Former senior Crown prosecutor Ross Burns said prosecutors risk a protracted trial with unknown consequences if Tarrant is charged under the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA).
He said only two things need to be proved in a murder trial: whether the accused did it and whether it was his intention to kill.
But under terror laws, the Crown must show there was death or serious injury, it was done for political or ideological reasons, and was intended to induce terror in a civilian population.
“To minimise the impact on victims, straight murder is easier to prove,” Mr Burns told NZ news website Stuff.
“And there’s less scope to use a platform to espouse his ideological reasons.”
Waikato University law professor Alexander Gillespie said he expected that Tarrant will face multiple murder charges.
“There’s a lot of debate on whether he should be charged under terrorism legislation or whether he should be charged under the Crimes Act for the simple act of murder – in many ways it’s academic debate,” he said.
“The main thing is that he ends up in jail forever. The safest option is always to go under the Crimes Act, because definitions of terrorism often end up in legal quagmire.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and police have called Tarrant a terrorist.
Tarrant, from Grafton in NSW, appeared in court on Saturday charged with one count of murder.
Further charges are expected to be laid before he appears again on April 5.
No legal representation
Tarrant is expected to represent himself in court. Lawyer Richard Peters had initially been appointed by the court to represent Tarrant on Saturday.
Mr Peters told 9News that Tarrant appeared “lucid” and “seemed to appreciate what he was facing and why he was there”.
Mr Peters also said he had to put aside his personal feelings when he was appointed to represent Tarrant.
“Quite shocked and sad by what had happened, but in dealing with this fellow, I had to put that to one side and just deal with what’s before me,” he said.
Tarrant bought guns online
David Tipple, the owner of Christchurch’s Gun City, yesterday confirmed that Tarrant had bought weapons and ammunition from the gun store’s online shop.
But Mr Tipple said none of the weapons were the military-style semi-automatic rifles used during Friday’s attack, adding he and staff were disgusted by the shooting.
He also said he didn’t feel responsible for the massacre.
The alleged gunman is believed to have carried five weapons, legally bought with a licence, and then later illegally modified.
“We detected nothing extraordinary about this licence holder,” Mr Tipple said.
PM: Hand in your guns
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged citizens to hand in weapons before new gun laws are introduced.
She said she would reveal tougher new laws within 10 days following an agreement by senior ministers.
“To make our community safer, the time to act is now,” she said yesterday.
While she said details were being worked through, cabinet has been looking at a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles, tighter licensing rules and the issue of modified weapons.
While she would not say whether a buyback or amnesty scheme would be part of the new laws, Ms Ardern said New Zealanders were free to hand over their guns.
“If anyone has a weapon that either they should not be in possession of, or they have concern over the events of Friday, they are welcome at any time to surrender that weapon to police,” she said.
What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.
— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) March 15, 2019
There are an estimated 1.5 million firearms in New Zealand – roughly one for every three citizens and more than double the rate in Australia.
There’s no restriction on the number of guns or quantity of ammunition a licensed gun owner can have and pest control is legally considered a reason to own a military-style semi-automatic weapon.