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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 11:11 GMT
'High pressured' trial for Lees

By Phil Mercer
BBC News in Darwin

It has been a roller coaster week for Joanne Lees in tropical Darwin.

Joanne Lees at the Supreme Court in Darwin
Newspapers have dubbed it 'Australia's trial of the decade'

After four testing years, she has faced four high-pressured days in the witness stand.

A few metres away, in the dock, has sat Bradley Murdoch, the man she believes murdered her boyfriend Peter Falconio on a lonely outback road in July 2001.

The 47-year-old mechanic has denied all the charges against him.

Ms Lees has appeared smart and business-like throughout, wearing a collection of crisp white blouses, maroon shirts and cream patterned skirts.

She has been reasonably calm during the hearing but there have been fiery and upsetting moments too.

The prosecution's star witness was often openly defiant during cross-examination by the defence.

At other times she has been in tears as she has relived the trauma of her boyfriend's disappearance.

This sad drama has drawn quite a crowd. Court Six at the Supreme Court in Darwin has been full all week.

Peter Falconio's family - his mother Joan, father Luciano and two brothers Nick and Paul - have not missed a day so far.

Wide-eyed wonder

Bradley Murdoch's partner, Jan Pittman, has also been in the small public gallery.

Joanne Lees has indicated that she too intends to sit in court until the trial is over.

Downstairs the hearing is broadcast live on a giant screen in another court.

Spectators have come in all shapes and sizes from middle-aged women with time on their hands to young students, who look on in wide-eyed wonder.

'Rarefied feel'

But court cases are rarely gripping all the time. At least a couple of sleepy on-lookers have been seen dozing during proceedings.

The modern court building here in the capital of Australia's steamy "Top End" has a rarefied feel. Its cavernous insides are decorated with an array of Aboriginal art.

You would almost believe you were in a museum. On display are huge indigenous funeral poles from the nearby Tiwi Islands.

They are staggeringly ornate and are erected at Aboriginal burial sites. There is even a car door decorated with an intricate native design.

The judge presiding over the Falconio murder trial is Chief Justice Brian Martin.

Blowtorch heat

He sits beneath the Northern Territory's Coat of Arms. It comprises two kangaroos standing either side of an indigenous lightning spirit, with a wedgetail eagle flying above.

The 15 members of the jury - six men and six women plus three reserves - are helped by a bank of monitors where various exhibits, drawings and photographs are displayed.

From the jury box, the panel can look straight across at the accused or slightly to the right to see the judge or a witness take the stand.

Outside in the blowtorch heat of Darwin everyone seems to have an opinion on the case. The backpacker mystery has made headlines around the country.

It is - according to one newspaper - "Australia's trial of the decade". Some foreign backpackers in the cafes and bars on Mitchell Street are, however, oblivious to the high-profile hearing taking place just down the road.

'Disaster ending'

The tragic disappearance of Peter Falconio, who was 28, is being followed around the world. In many countries - especially the United Kingdom - there are close ties with Australia.

People are forever saying goodbye to young sons and daughters as well as brothers and sisters who are heading for a trip down under.

Four years ago Peter Falconio and his girlfriend Joanne Lees left on their dream holiday.

It was supposed to take in exotic hotspots such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea, as well as New Zealand and Australia.

The trip ended in disaster. It sparked one of the most gripping and absorbing mysteries in decades in Australia.




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