FILE PHOTO: Brenton Tarrant, charged for murder in relation to the mosque attacks, is seen in the dock during his appearance in the Christchurch District Court, New Zealand March 16, 2019. Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Australian man accused of the attacks on two New Zealand mosques last year entered a surprise guilty plea in a Christchurch court on Thursday to 51 charges of murder, local media reported.
Brenton Tarrant, who appeared by video link in a special High Court hearing, also admitted to 40 charges of attempted murder and one terrorism charge, broadcaster TVNZ reported.
Tarrant, 29, a suspected white supremacist, had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges and had been due to face a trial scheduled to start in June.
The court will now sentence him on all 92 charges, but did not provide a date for that sentencing. Tarrant was remanded in custody until another court appearance on May 1, TVNZ reported.
Due to a nationwide lockdown in place for the coronavirus outbreak, Thursday’s court hearing took place with minimal staff, lawyers and media present.
Calls and emails to the court by Reuters were not immediately returned.
The court placed a one-hour embargo on reporting the news in order to inform family members and victims about what had taken place before it was made public.
Tarrant has been in plice custody since the March 15 attack, where he used semi-automatic weapons to target Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch, marking New Zealand’s worst peace time mass shooting.
Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Sandra Maler and Jane Wardell