SYDNEY -- The Australian man accused of killing 51 people and wounding dozens of others in two Christchurch mosques in March 2019 changed his pleas from not guilty to guilty, New Zealand police said Thursday.
The 29-year-old suspect, who appeared via video-link in a hurriedly arranged High Court session in Christchurch at the defendant's request, admitted to the 51 murder and 40 attempted murder charges, as well as one charge of engaging in a terrorist act, police said in a statement.
The names of all 51 people killed on March 15, 2019, were read to the man before he was asked how he pleaded to the murder charges, New Zealand media reported.
"Oh, OK. Yes, guilty," he reportedly said before pleading guilty again when asked about the attempted murder and terrorism charges.
The alleged white supremacist in June had pleaded not guilty to all 92 charges through his lawyers when he also appeared by video link from a prison in Auckland, more than 600 miles north of Christchurch, where he is being held in isolation in a high-security wing.
"Police appreciate this news will come as a surprise to the victims and the public, some of whom may have wished to be present in the courtroom," the statement read.
In an initial reaction, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "The guilty plea today will provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered by what happened on March 15."
"These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial."
"I can't make any further comment given that sentencing is yet to happen," Ardern said.
The defendant was remanded in custody until May 1. Police said that the sentencing will not take place until it is possible for all victims who wish to attend the hearing to do so.
"Due to the COVID-19 epidemic that will not be possible for some time," they said.
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