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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Falconio lawyer cites DNA links
Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio in their camper van
The couple were travelling Australia as part of a round-the-world trip
Three pieces of DNA evidence link a mechanic to the murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio in Australia, prosecutors have told a Darwin court.

Lawyers have been outlining the case against Bradley Murdoch, 47, accused of murdering Mr Falconio, 28, in July 2001 after flagging his van down.

Mr Murdoch denies shooting Mr Falconio and attacking his girlfriend Joanne Lees on a deserted Outback road.

Miss Lees escaped and hid in bushes for five hours, the court heard.

The body of Mr Falconio, a surveyor from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, has never been found. The only trace left was a pool of his blood on the highway.

Miss Lees, from Brighton, is a key prosecution witness at the Northern Territory Supreme Court trial.

Circumstances cry out for you to say that that's what happened, but no one actually saw it
Prosecutor Rex Wild

Prosecutor Rex Wild said DNA consistent with Mr Murdoch's was found on Miss Lees' shirt, on cable ties used to tie her up and on the gear-stick on the couple's camper van.

There was a "smudge" of blood on the t-shirt, and the probability of it belonging to any other person other than Mr Murdoch was "very low".

"It was a strong match," said Mr Wild.

He said tests on a swab taken from the gear stick of the camper van had initially proved inconclusive in conventional Australian tests.

But an expert from the UK produced a "mixed profile" with the pattern he found matching Mr Murdoch's DNA profile, he added.

Traces of DNA were also found within the layers of tape around the cuffs used to bind Ms Lees' hands, also matching Mr Murdoch's profile.

Hairband

Mr Wild added that CCTV footage seen in court showed a man thought to be Mr Murdoch at a truck stop in Alice Springs at 0038 on 15 July.

In other evidence, Mr Wild said in August 2002 Murdoch was wearing a strap with a broken buckle held together by a "Lady Jane" hair band - the same as the one Miss Lees was wearing on the night of the attack.

Mr Wild said although Miss Lees had not directly seen the shooting she was almost a direct eye witness.

"Circumstances cry out for you to say that that's what happened, but no one actually saw it."

The lawyer told the court on Monday Mr Murdoch had followed the couple in a pickup truck before signalling them to stop because of a problem with the exhaust.

Mr Falconio stopped the van and went to check the back of the vehicle while Miss Lees revved the engine.

It was then that she heard the sound of gunshot or a car backfiring, Mr Wild added.

Peter Falconio's family arrive at court
Mr Falconio's family has made the journey to Australia for the trial

The prosecution claimed Mr Murdoch then threatened Miss Lees with a revolver, bound her hands with plastic cable ties, put a sack over her head and forced her into the cabin of his pickup truck.

Later while her captor was disposing of the body, she climbed out of the vehicle and ran into the scrub where she hid for five hours until Mr Murdoch gave up looking for her and drove off, prosecutors claimed.

Convinced that her captor had gone she waved down a passing truck early on 15 July, added the prosecutor.

Ms Lees, a support worker for people with learning difficulties, was also asked about a relationship she had with another man while in Australia.

She said she became intimate with a man called Nick, whom she had met through friends, while working in Sydney, but Mr Falconio had not known about the relationship which soon ended.

Mr Falconio's parents Luciano and Joan, and his brothers Nick and Paul are also at the trial, as is the defendant's girlfriend Jane Pittman. Luciano Falconio broke down as he recalled the last time he spoke to his son.

Life sentence

Mr Murdoch was a drug runner who regularly travelled through central Australia to take marijuana bought in the southern Australian state to Broome, 2,100 miles (3,400km) to the north-west, Mr Wild said.

Mr Murdoch took amphetamines to stay awake during the long journeys, he alleged.

Murdoch later told someone "the best place to bury bodies was in a spoon drain on the side of the road. Just cover them with dirt. Soft digging," added the prosecution.

If convicted, Mr Murdoch faces a life sentence.

The trial was adjourned until Tuesday and is expected to last six to eight weeks.


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