SYDNEY – An Australian man accused of killing 50 people in attacks on two mosques in New Zealand’s third-largest city was ordered by a judge on Friday to undergo psychiatric evaluations before the start of his upcoming trial, according to the public broadcaster Radio New Zealand.
Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 of attempted murder following the March 15 attacks on Muslim worshipers taking part in Friday prayer at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in the South Island city of Christchurch.
Judge Cameron Mander of the Christchurch High Court requested two preliminary psychiatric reports to test the defendant’s ability to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges.
Police have said that further charges were still under consideration.
The judge remarked that the evaluations were normal procedure and an “entirely ordinary and regular step” intended to ensure the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Tarrant had at first expressed his intention to assume his own legal defense, but on Thursday night it was revealed that he had agreed to be represented by attorneys Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson.
He appeared for Friday’s hearing via video link from a prison in the northern city of Auckland and was handcuffed, RNZ reported.
Tarrant was set to remain in detention until his next scheduled appearance on June 14, when the results of the assessments of his mental health should be known.
During the hearing, the name of a woman was removed from the list of fatalities after it was discovered she had actually survived. It was replaced with the name of Khalid Alhaj-Mustafa, one of the 50 people who lost their lives in New Zealand’s deadliest attack.
In addition, the identities of the 39 injured people linked to the charges of attempted murder have been suppressed by the court and were set to appear in official documents as alphanumeric codes, beginning with “W001” and ending with “W039,” according to the New Zealand Herald.
Around 50 relatives of the victims attended the hearing along with more than 20 local and international journalists amid a heavy presence of police and security personnel.
Tarrant was arrested on the same day of the massacres after livestreaming the attack for 17 minutes on social media.