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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 08:38 GMT
Body 'not issue' in Falconio case
Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio in their camper van
Peter Falconio's body has never been found
The absence of British backpacker Peter Falconio's body does not prevent a guilty verdict, the Australian jury at his murder trial has been told.

Jurors at the Darwin court retired to consider their verdict, but asked Judge Brian Martin to clarify the point as Mr Falconio's body has not been found.

Bradley Murdoch, 47, of Broome, Western Australia, denies killing Mr Falconio north of Alice Springs in 2001.

He also denies abducting and assaulting Mr Falconio's girlfriend, Joanne Lees.

He is accused of flagging the couple down in their orange camper van, shooting Mr Falconio and threatening Miss Lees by pointing a gun to her head before tying her up on the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs, on 14 July 2001.

The judge told the jury: "The absence of a body is not a bar to a guilty verdict of murder."

He said the critical question was whether the Crown had proved that Mr Falconio was killed and whether Mr Murdoch had killed him.

Submissions 'wrong'

Miss Lees, now 32, from Brighton, told police she managed to escape and hide in the bush for five hours before being rescued.

Mr Falconio, 28, of Hepworth, Huddersfield, disappeared and his body has never been found.

Put aside the flamboyant suggestions of counsel that we do not need experts from the mother country to teach us colonials a thing or two
Judge Brian Martin

The six men and six women jurors retired on day 37 of the trial.

Judge Martin told jurors in Darwin to put emotions aside, reject "flamboyant" suggestions from counsel, and concentrate on the evidence.

The judge urged the jury to reject comments by defence counsel that expert witnesses had been wrong in previous cases, and that the jury did not need scientists from the UK telling "colonials" they were right because they were the experts.

While the submissions were entertaining, he said, they were wrong.

DNA evidence

He referred to Miss Lees' blood-stained T-shirt, which contained a DNA profile that was 150 quadrillion (150,000 million billion) times more likely to have come from Mr Murdoch than from anyone else.

"The question to be considered by you is whether you are satisfied the accused's blood came to be on the T-shirt in the course of attacking Miss Lees.

"Are you satisfied that the DNA came to be on the item because of contact in the course of the accused attacking Miss Lees?

Bradley Murdoch
Under cross-examination, Mr Murdoch denied killing Mr Falconio

"Or is it a reasonable possibility that the DNA came to be on the item through an innocent contact, or through some form of contamination either deliberate or accidental?"

The defence has suggested Mr Murdoch's DNA may have been transferred onto Miss Lees' T-shirt directly or indirectly at a restaurant both visited earlier on 14 July.

If the jury was satisfied that the blood came from Mr Murdoch, the judge said, the Crown had also put the case that it was deposited while he was attacking Miss Lees.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if that's your view, if you are satisfied the Crown's submission is correct, and you are satisfied that the man who attacked Miss Lees killed Peter Falconio, then the Crown will have proved its case of murder," he said.

Unresolved issues

The court has heard DNA on cable ties used on Miss Lees was 100 million times more likely to come from Mr Murdoch than anyone else.

The judge told the jury they may not be able to resolve all the issues in the case.

These included why two pieces of tape and the lip balm Miss Lees used to try to ease the handcuffs off her wrists was not found until three months later - despite being under the same bush as other items.

But he said they should consider the combined effect of all the evidence.




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