Jury convicts Murdoch of outback murder

Wednesday, December 14, 2005 A jury has delivered a unanimous guilty verdict in the Darwin trial of the man charged with the murder of missing British backpacker Peter Falconio.

It took the jury more than eight hours to reach a verdict. 47-year-old Broome mechanic, Bradley John Murdoch, has also been found guilty of the assault and deprivation of liberty of Mr Falconio's girlfriend Joanne Lees. Mr Falconio's body has never been found.

Murdoch flagged down Mr Falconio and Ms Lees on a remote Central Australian highway in July 14, 2001. He then shot Mr Falconio and bound Ms Lees with cable ties and threatened her with a gun.

Telling jurors that he "entirely agreed" with their verdict, Chief Justice Brian Martin sentenced Murdoch to a mandatory life sentence. Murdoch's defence lawyer, Grant Algie, indicated an appeal would be lodged against the conviction. "Obviously we are disappointed with the result," he said.

Outside court, Ms Lees said she hoped Murdoch would tell her and Falconio's family the location of her partner's body. "Today marks an intense period of distress for myself and the Falconio family. This will enable us to take another step (forward)," she said.

The eight-week trial heard from 85 witnesses and had more than 300 exhibits tendered. The court heard that Mr Falconio and Ms Lees were travelling around Australia when they were flagged down by Murdoch. Murdoch told them he saw sparks coming out of the exhaust of the couple's orange Kombi van and took Mr Falconio to the back of the vehicle to show him. Ms Lees heard a gunshot before Murdoch bound her hands with a pair of cable ties. She managed to escape the van, and hid in bushes for hours until she flagged down a road train.

DNA matching Murdoch's was found on the T-shirt Ms Lees was wearing when she was found. The court heard it was 150 quadrillion times more likely to match the DNA of Murdoch than any other person in the Northern Territory. Matching DNA was also found on the gear stick of the van and inside the cable ties.

In his defence, Murdoch claimed he had nothing to do with the crime. He admitted to the fact he was a drug-runner, detailing numerous trips across Australia. His former drug-running partner also gave evidence, saying he believed Murdoch was filmed at a truckstop after Mr Falconio was murdered.

Murdoch has been in prison since August 2002. He was arrested in Port Augusta over the abduction and rape of two women in South Australia. He was acquitted of those charges, but immediately arrested over the Falconio case.