News from Australia this week that Bradley Murdoch has withdrawn his appeal against conviction for the murder of Peter Falconio. The case received international attention in 2001 when British tourist Joanna Lees was picked up on the Stuart Highway just outside Barrow Creek in the Northern Territory and described how she and her boyfriend, Falconio, had been stopped by a passing driver who shot Falconio and tied Ms Lees up. She managed to escape and was found some hours later. Evidence was circumstantial as Falconio’s body was never found. Ms Lees has been the subject of terrible press, largely because she wore a pink T shirt which had been supplied to her after her clothes were taken by the police. I became particularly interested in this case when I broke down in the same location and met Les, the Barrow Creek owner who was witness number 5 in the trial [http://www.criminallawandjustice.co.uk/blog/Barrister-Breaks-Down-near-B…).
Bradley John Murdoch was convicted for the murder of Peter Falconio in 2005 and has appealed before in relation to DNA evidence and other issues. This time he was alleging that Ms Lees had been coached by prosecution counsel. Interestingly, pursuing such a suggestion would have made the opinion of other witnesses as to her reaction on being found admissible – Les, the lorry drivers who found her and so on – long before she ever met prosecution counsel.
Herald Sun reported “Murdoch believed a News Corp interview with prosecutor Rex Wild QC showed that the prosecution felt Joanne Lees, Mr Falconio’s girlfriend and the key witness in the case, was so unlikable that she might have endangered their case, and so groomed her “secretly, deliberately and improperly” to improve her behaviour in order to obtain a conviction from the jury”. It seems like a pretty wild allegation in all the circumstances. The Herald Sun continued:
“Mr Wild said he was happy to hear the appeal had been withdrawn.
“Relieved isn’t the word for that; I’m pleased,” he told AAP.
All decisions on submitting and withdrawing appeals had come from Murdoch himself, a spokesman for his lawyers said. He denied that Murdoch had withdrawn his appeal due to having a weak case.
The same spokesman apparently also said: “It’s certainly not over yet. There’s more to come.” The likelihood of finding Mr Falconio’s body in the outback is pretty remote given the size of the location, the old mines and goodness knows what else but time will tell. In the meantime, the suggestion that Mr Falconio was never killed seems to be well rebutted by the passage of time and his lack of reappearance.