CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Brenton Tarrant, the gunman who massacred dozens of people at two New Zealand mosques last year, indicated Wednesday that he would not speak personally in his defense after hearing face-to-face testimony from surviving victims and relatives of those killed in his rampage.
The assault, which Tarrant live-streamed on Facebook, was the worst act of violence in the country’s history. He is expected on Thursday to learn his sentence, which could be the most severe imposed since New Zealand abolished the death penalty for murder in 1961.
On Wednesday, the Australian former fitness instructor sat in the dock for a third consecutive day as the High Court in Christchurch heard final submissions from those whose lives were affected by the mass shooting.
Sara Qasem brought some in the room to tears as she described her father, who died in the massacre, as a “hero” and a “shining, glimmering man.” She told Tarrant not to forget his name: Abdelfattah Qasem. “I want to hear my dad’s voice, my baba’s voice,” she said, before pausing to cry.
Abdul Aziz, who fought off Tarrant with a credit card machine and chased him from the Linwood Islamic Center, saving many lives, told the gunman that he “should thank God on that day that I didn’t catch you. This government would save a lot of money.”
Judge Cameron Mander acknowledged Aziz’s courage in preventing more deaths — prompting applause from visitors who were sitting behind a glass screen in the courtroom.
Tense scenes have played out this week as victims have come face to face with Tarrant. Some have urged Mander to impose the maximum life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Graeme Edgeler, a Wellington-based lawyer and legal commentator, said in an email that the judge could impose that penalty if he is satisfied that no minimum term would be sufficient to protect the community, hold Tarrant accountable for the harm done, denounce the gunman’s actions, and deter Tarrant or others from committing similar offenses.
Tarrant, who has been representing himself, has displayed little emotion throughout the proceedings as he has heard traumatic personal accounts from those affected by his actions.
Asked by Mander on Wednesday if he wanted to say anything in his defense, Tarrant said no. But a court-appointed standby lawyer, Philip Hall, indicated he would make a brief statement Thursday on Tarrant’s behalf.
Authorities have been eager to prevent the gunman, who had posted a racist manifesto online, from using the court as a platform to extol extremist views.
Tony Green, a worshiper at Al Noor Mosque who has attended every day of the hearing, said he was not sure how to interpret Tarrant’s decision.
“There is no way of reaching into his head,” Green said in an interview. “Either he has nothing to say out of remorse — and that presumes humanity for which we see no sign — or he believes it’s his last attempt to control the narrative, because he will not give society the one thing it wants: the answer to ‘Why?’ ”
Earlier on Wednesday, John Milne recalled the life of his son, Sayyad, who was killed when Tarrant, armed with semiautomatic weapons, burst into the Linwood Islamic Center.
“I’ve forgiven you, Brenton, even though you murdered my 14-year-old son,” he said.
Milne added that he longed to meet Sayyad again in heaven. “I hope to see you there too, Brenton, and if you get the chance, I would love you to say sorry to Sayyad,” he said.
Ahad Nabi, whose father, Haji Mohemmed Daoud Nabi, was killed at the Al Noor Mosque, raised both middle fingers at Tarrant as he addressed his dad’s murderer with visible rage.
“I do not forgive you for what you have done, but while you are in prison you will come to the reality that you are now in hell, and only the fire awaits you,” he said.
Referring to Tarrant as “trash,” he added, “You deserve to be buried in a landfill.”