December 15, 2005

Australian jailed for minimum 28 years for murder

DARWIN (Reuters) - The Australian truck driver sentenced to
life in prison for murdering British tourist Peter Falconio in
the outback in 2001 was told by a judge on Thursday he would
ineligible for parole for 28 years.

A Northern Territory Supreme Court jury in Darwin found
Bradley Murdoch guilty on Tuesday of murdering Falconio and
abducting and assaulting his British girlfriend Joanne Lees on
the Stuart Highway in the Australian outback in July 2001.

Judge Brian Martin immediately imposed a mandatory life
sentence on Murdoch on Tuesday.

During the formal sentencing hearing on Thursday, the judge
said Falconio's murder and the attack on Lees was "nothing
short of cowardly in the extreme."

Murdoch's aggression, past history and "complete lack of
remorse painted a bleak picture of your prospects for
rehabilitation," said Martin.

Murdoch was found not guilty of abducting and raping a
young girl in similar circumstances in South Australia state,
but this was not allowed as evidence during his trial for
Falconio's murder.

Murdoch showed no sign of emotion during the judge's
sentencing and at the end he stood up, glanced across to his
girlfriend in the public gallery, and stormed out of the dock.

During his trial, Lees said Murdoch pulled the couple over
at night saying smoke was coming from their orange van. When
Falconio checked the back of the van, Lees said she heard a
loud bang.

The prosecution said Murdoch shot Falconio, but his body
has never been found and neither has a murder weapon.

Lees said Murdoch then put a gun to her face and tied her
up, but she escaped and hid under bushes until he drove off.

"I was terrified and extremely distressed when I was
hiding, as I thought I would never see my family again and
no-one would know what happened to Pete and me," Lees told the
court on Thursday in a victim impact statement.

Victim impact statements can be used by a judge to
determine the severity of a sentence

"Pete was in the prime of his life -- the crime ended our
dreams of travel, marriage, children, a future. I never
imagined not being with him and not sharing my life with him,"
Lees said.

Falconio's mother Joan also gave a statement, saying she
suffered "torment and constant physical pain" since her son's

"I suffered the most awful panic attacks. I never knew
mental and physical pain would be so relentless," said Joan

"The pressure we were under was immense. At times we were
torn apart. Sometimes I thought the tension was so great I
thought our marriage would collapse."

Commenting on the minimum 28 year sentence, Joan Falconio
told reporters outside the court that she hoped it would
"reflect the brutality of the crime he committed and of the
life he took."