Trial of accused Christchurch mosque shooter may be delayed

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The trial of the man accused of killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques could be delayed by several weeks to avoid clashing with the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan.

The trial had been scheduled to begin on May 3 in the city of Christchurch, where the Muslim worshippers were killed five months ago during Friday prayers.

But prosecutors said during a hearing yesterday they were working with court officials to see if they could fulfil the wishes of survivors and victims’ families by delaying the trial until after Ramadhan ends in late May, Radio New Zealand reported.

Also during the hearing, lawyers for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant asked if the venue for the trial could be changed to Auckland, where Tarrant is being held at a maximum security prison, RNZ reported. Judge Cameron Mander plans to hear arguments for the venue change during the next hearing on October 3.

Mander had earlier issued a written note saying that Tarrant could skip yesterday’s hearing because his lawyers didn’t require him to be there and he hadn’t sought to attend in person or by video.

The 28-year-old Australian white supremacist has been charged with terrorism, murder and attempted murder.

On Wednesday, prison officials admitted making a mistake by allowing Tarrant to send a six-page letter from his jail cell to a supporter.

Defence lawyers for Brenton Tarrant, Jonathon Hudson, left, and Shane Tait arrive at the Christchurch District Court in Christchurch. PHOTO: AP

The letter was then posted on the 4chan website, which has become notorious as a place for white supremacists to post their views.

Corrections Department Chief Executive Christine Stevenson apologised for the distress the letter may have caused to victims of the March 15 attacks and said Tarrant had been stopped from sending or receiving any more letters until the department had processes in place to ensure the safety of the public.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis told RNZ that Tarrant had sent seven letters since he’d been in jail and had written two more letters that prison staff had withheld. Davis said Tarrant sent two of the letters to his mother but didn’t know who had received the other five letters.

The online posting of the letter came at a sensitive time, with other alleged killers from El Paso, Texas, to Norway citing Tarrant as an inspiration.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to utter Tarrant’s name in order to deny him the publicity she said he craves, making Tarrant’s letter even more of an embarrassment for the government.

“I think every New Zealander would have an expectation that this individual should not be able to share his hateful message from behind bars,” she told media on the island nation of Tuvalu, where she is travelling to attend a meeting of Pacific leaders.

Tarrant’s lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment yesterday on why they wanted to change the trial venue.