The man responsible for the shooting deaths of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch last month has been charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder. He was previously charged with just one murder following the March 15 attack, despite it being the worst mass shooting by a gunman in New Zealand’s history, but the fresh charges were released in a written statement by New Zealand Police this afternoon. “Other charges are still under consideration,” the statement declared.
The accused, an Australian, is currently being held in isolation in a high-security wing of Auckland Prison—New Zealand’s only maximum security penitentiary. He is set to appear in the High Court via video link tomorrow, where he will face the charges. It's possible he will be ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
The attacks on March 15 saw dozens of Muslim worshippers gunned down during Friday prayers at both the Masjid Al Noor Mosque on Deans Ave, Riccarton, and the Linwood Masjid Mosque. The gunman broadcast the massacre on Facebook before being apprehended as he fled the scene and was subsequently remanded without plea.
Authorities had already labelled the shooting an act of terrorism, but refused to say whether the man responsible would be the first person charged under New Zealand's anti-terrorism laws. Legal experts have previously suggested that terrorism charges could potentially just complicate the prosecution without any material difference to the outcome. Another concern was that it might unnecessarily give the man, a suspected white supremacist, a platform. Murder charges are slightly easier to prove, according to Auckland University of Technology professor Kris Gledhill, and don’t pose the same ethical pitfalls.
"The prosecution can make sure they don't bring a charge which implicitly brings a platform into the arena,” Kris told Fairfax. “His ideology is not relevant to whether he committed murder. My hope would be they do it fairly speedily, and that the prosecutors make decisions that minimise his soapbox."
This article originally appeared on VICE AU.