June 13 (UPI) -- The man accused of shooting worshipers at two New Zealand mosques pleaded not guilty Thursday to all 92 charges.
Appearing in the High Court at Christchurch via video-link from Auckland Prison, Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant, 28, sat motionless as his lawyers entered not guilty pleas to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act.
Tarrant is accused of entering two mosques in the city of Christchurch on March 15 and opening fire with military-grade weapons on worshipers, killing 51 people.
Prior to the plea, justice Cameron Mander said the court had received Tarrant's mental health assessments that showed he was fit to stand trial.
"No issues arise regarding the defendant's fitness to plea, instruct counsel and stand trial," Mander said. "Therefore, a fitness hearing is not required."
Christchurch Crown Solicitor Mark Zarifeh formally laid another murder charge, two attempted murder charges and a charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. The murder charge was amended from attempted murder after the victim died in the hospital. The charges were first filed against Tarrant in May.
Mander said he expected the trial to last six weeks and initially set it to start in February, but defense attorney Shane Tait said it could last three months and more time is needed to prepare the case. He said he changed the start date to May 4, 2020, due to the "scale and complexity" of the case and "to avoid the possibility of an overly optimistic trial date having to be vacated and trial adjourned."
Several family members and survivors of the mosque shootings were in the 80-seat public gallery while others watched in the courthouse by audiovisual link-up.
The second part of the hearing was held in chambers, where Mander and the two sides discussed procedural steps.
Tarrant last appeared in court in April when he was ordered to undergo two mental health assessments. He will next appear in August for a case review hearing.