Utrecht mass shooting suspect ignores court order to attend hearing

Flowers and candles left at the scene of a mass shooting on 24 Oktoberplein in Utrecht on 18 March 2019
Flowers and candles left at the scene of a mass shooting on 24 Oktoberplein in Utrecht on 18 March 2019Photo: Gemeente Utrecht/Twitter

Gokmen T., the suspected gunman in a mass shooting on a tram in Utrecht in March, did not appear in court for a proforma hearing in his case on Monday, despite a court order that he attend. A lot of violence would have been needed to get him to the courtroom, the court said. "It is not up to the suspect to dictate whether he appears or not, but under these circumstances the court refrains from forcing him to be present," the court president said, according to broadcaster NOS. 

The fact that this is a proforma hearing, and not the actual trial, also played a role. The Public Prosecution Service agreed with the court's decision. According to the Public Prosecutor, having a conversation with the suspect would have been impossible had he been forced to be there. "Moreover, the hearing would be considerably delayed. Then we would have had ot wait at least two hours."

According to Andre Seebregts, the lawyer appointed by the court to represent T., every time his client leaves and returns to the maximum security cell block for terrorism suspects, he has to undergo a strip search and that includes an inspection of his anus. The lawyer said that this "traumatizing treatment" is why T. refuses to attend court, according to Telegraaf reporter Saskia Belleman tweeting live from the courtroom.

Relatives of the victims killed and injured in the mass shooting were not pleased by the suspect getting his way. T. traumatized their family, so why should he not be traumatized, they wonder. When the court said that violence would be necessary to force T. into the courtroom, the father of one victim responded: "He also used violence against my daughter!"

On March 18th a man opened fire on a tram on 24 Oktoberplein. A total of four people were killed, three died on the day of the shooting, and fourth succumbed to his injuries a week later. Suspected gunman Gokmen T. was arrested hours after the incident. He confessed to the shooting and told the authorities that he was working alone. The 37-year-old man is facing charges of murder or manslaughter with terrorist intent, attempts thereto, and threats with terrorist intent.

T. previously refused a lawyer, saying that he wants to represent himself. But based on a report from psychiatrists that examined T. at the Pieter Baan Center, the court decided to appoint Seebregts to represent the suspect. 

But according to Seebregts, the Pieter Baan Center report shows that T. is perfectly capable of conducting his own defense and has a good understanding of the process. "He has shown that he is well aware of the procedures and the consequences," the lawyer quoted from the report. "He also said to take into account that he will get life imprisonment." Seebregts said: "Defending against the will of a suspect is very undesirable. Especially if he is deemed capable of understanding the consequences and determining his process position."

The Public Prosecutor also thinks T. should not be forced to accept a lawyer, pointing out that as a suspect he has the right to a lawyer, but also the right to refuse one.