Tasman killer receives 35 life sentences

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The Independent Online
Hobart (AP) - An Australian judge earlier today ordered a gunman to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing 35 people in a lone shooting spree at a Tasmanian tourist spot in April.

Chief Justice William Cox passed 35 life sentences against Martin Bryant in the Tasmanian Supreme Court, Hobart, which was packed with relatives of the dead as well as survivors of the massacre. The judge said that Bryant would never be eligible for parole. Australia has no death penalty.

Bryant, 29, pleaded innocent soon after his arrest on 29 April, but changed his plea to guilty on all counts against him last month.

The massacre at Port Arthur, a ruined colonial penal colony 60 miles south of Hobart, shocked Australia. The carnage prompted its federal and the state government to enact tough laws that ban a wide range of automatic and semiautomatic firearms.

Nineteen people were wounded, some maimed for life, in the massacre.

Court prosecutors said Bryant shot many of the victims in a cafeteria. He then drove down a road, killing more as he went. A mother and two young children were killed after they pleaded for mercy. Bryant's lawyer, John Avery, told a pre-sentencing hearing this week that his client was intellectually handicapped and had the IQ of a child.

He had a severe personality disorder, but was not insane, according to psychiatric evidence, which described him as a moody, loner who craved attention. Mr Avery said Bryant knew what he had done and why he had done it.

Mr Avery said his client had revelled in his notoriety, but would not make public his reasons for opening fire on defenceless tourists and workers at the picturesque site.

Before the sentence was handed down, Mr Avery told reporters that Bryant had expected he would remain behind bars until the day he died. Bryant was badly burned in a house fire he lit at the end of stand-off with police the day after the massacre.

Apart from a brief stay in a hospital where he was treated for burns, he has been kept in solitary confinement, in a cell built especially for him in Risdon Prison, Hobart, where he is under constant video surveillance.

Government officials said that Bryant would be kept in isolation for his own safety in the immediate future, but that he would eventually be introduced to a standard maximum security prison with other inmates.