QUEBEC – In a stunning turn of events, the man accused of killing six Muslim men as they attended prayer in a Quebec City mosque last year has pleaded guilty to six charges of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder.
Many people in the courtroom burst out sobbing and held hands Wednesday as the judge confirmed Alexandre Bissonnette’s guilty pleas.
Bissonnette, 28, originally pleaded not guilty to the 12 charges Monday morning but that afternoon announced he was changing his mind and wanted to plead guilty.
“In my heart, it’s the decision I have wanted to make in order to avoid a trial and for the victims to not have to relive this tragedy,” he told the court Monday
Superior Court Justice Francois Huot originally refused to accept the pleas pending a psychiatric assessment of the accused to ensure he fully understood the consequences of his decision.
Huot placed a publication ban on Monday afternoon’s proceedings but agreed Wednesday to accept the 12 guilty pleas.
The charges against Bissonnette were related to a shooting attack at the Islamic Cultural Centre in January 2017 in which he killed six men: Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42; Abdelkrim Hassane, 41; Khaled Belkacemi, 60; Aboubaker Thabti, 44; Azzeddine Soufiane, 57; and Ibrahima Barry, 39.
Psychiatrist Sylvain Faucher said Bissonnette “is fit to stand trial and to plead what he wants to plead.”
“He did not want to be the perpetrator of another collective drama,” said Faucher, who met with Bissonnette on Monday evening.
The counts of attempted murder involved five people who were struck by bullets and a sixth charge encompassed the other people present at the mosque.
Many members of Quebec City’s Muslim community were present in court Monday and Wednesday.
“That the trial won’t have to take place, it’s a good thing for us, it’s a good thing for everyone in the community,” Amir Belkacemi, Belkacemi’s son, told reporters.
Asked why, Belkacemi said that what happened 14 months ago is still very fresh in people’s minds.
“I think the events that took place last year are very traumatic, very difficult,” he said. “No one really wants to live those traumatic days again, and today what happened in the courtroom kind of puts it to an end.”
Bissonnette told Huot on Monday he had been thinking for sometime of pleading guilty but that he was missing certain pieces of evidence, which were relayed Sunday.
When Huot asked him if he was fully aware of what he was doing, Bissonnette replied, “Yes.”
He also said he was not changing his pleas because of any threats and that he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Huot asked Bissonnette whether he knew he would be getting a life sentence and he answered, “I understand.”
Huot also asked him if he understood he could receive consecutive sentences, meaning 150 years of prison.
” I know,” Bissonnette replied, in a low voice.
Sentencing arguments will take place at a later date.
Jury selection had been scheduled to start April 3 and the trial to last two months.