Category Archives: Criminal law

Falconio case – DPP “coaching” appeal withdrawn

News from Australia this week that Bradley Murdoch has withdrawn his appeal against conviction for the murder of Peter Falconio.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 […).

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“Mr Wild said he was happy to hear the appeal had been withdrawn.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 He denied that Murdoch had withdrawn his appeal due to having a weak case.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.

*Image authorised for re-use.

Pistorius Trial: What’s the charge and is there a defence?

International news is filled with the trial of Oscar Pistorius who is accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in South Africa on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

The prosecution case is that Ms Steenkamp was shot whilst behind a closed toilet door. There is no dispute that Mr Pistorius pulled the trigger more than once. The bullets were designed to expand on impact and each would probably have been fatal. This is a short summary of reports of evidence relating to the cause of death, which was not broadcast as part of the trial. Otherwise, the evidence is being live streamed across the world. It is a really good showcase for court TV and how it can work to inform people about what actually goes on in a criminal trial.

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Parole for murderers and rapists?*

[*First published mid-2013] Last week a prostitute was murdered on the streets of St Kilda in Melbourne, where I am currently living part of the time. Journalist Wendy Squires yesterday drew parallels between that crime and the horrific rape and murder of ABC employee Jill Meagher by serial rapist Adryan Bayley.

Squires sought to make a somewhat strained connection with a current controversy over the actions of the Parole Board of Victoria which, at least according to the tabloid media, is consistently guilty of irresponsibly letting dangerous violent offenders loose on the community:

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Does Google nobble juries?

Chris Murphy

Twitter is a much more useful social media tool than I had imagined.  I’ve been using it for several weeks now to produce the daily links to interesting legal stories here at CDU Law and Business Online. Contrary to previous impressions, I’ve discovered that you can conduct a reasonably effective conversation despite the 140 character limit on any one “tweet”.

One example is an exchange I had yesterday with Sydney celebrity lawyer Chris Murphy.  Readers may recall that I wrote a slightly equivocal (though mostly positive) article some weeks ago about Murphy  and his noble fight against alleged ongoing police harassment of Muslim lawyer Adam Houda.

After clearing the air on that front we discussed a more general legal issue: the effect on juries of the Internet and the propensity of some jurors to use Google to do some amateur sleuthing into the case before them:
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Colourful lawyers, police and the media

One of the 77 legal Tweeters we’re following for CDU Law Online is flamboyant Sydney criminal lawyer Chris Murphy. Without knowing much about him I’ve tended to view Murphy as something of a loud-mouthed self-promoter, but I may have been doing the man an injustice.

During the 80s and 90s I did quite a few high profile cases myself and some Darwin lawyers no doubt had a similar opinion about me.  The reality is that there are legitimate uses for media publicity in high profile cases, especially where an arm of government is the opposing party.  A combination of public pressure and embarrassment can assist in forcing a settlement on favourable terms for your client.  It’s part of one’s duty to a client as long as ethical bounds aren’t exceeded and you’re acting in your client’s interests and on his instructions not out of self-interest.

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