Falconio's girlfriend points finger of guilt

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The Independent Online

The court in Darwin, Australia, fell silent as Joanne Lees, 32, looked directly at Bradley Murdoch after being asked if she could see her former boyfriend's killer and replied: "Yes, I'm looking at him."

Mr Murdoch, wearing a light blue shirt, shook his head but Ms Lees nodded and held him in her gaze.

The confrontation, on the second day of Mr Murdoch's trial for the murder of Mr Falconio, came as Ms Lees spoke in harrowing detail of her ordeal in July 2001.

She broke down in tears in the Northern Territory Supreme Court as she explained that she feared being killed, but was even more scared of being raped.

Asked by the judge, Chief Justice Brian Martin, to describe her emotions, she said: "My main thoughts that I remember is just screaming out for Pete to come to help me.

"Once [Mr Murdoch] had stood me up and put me in the back of his van I thought: 'That's it, I've got no energy to get out of this situation. I'm definitely going to die.' When I asked him if he was going to rape me, I was just so frightened. I was more scared of being raped then I was of dying and being shot by the man.

"When I asked him if he had shot Pete, he didn't give an answer right away. Then the realisation hit me that he might have killed Pete. I just got some energy from somewhere - some inner strength - and my focus was on escaping and that's just what I concentrated on, getting out of there."

Mr Falconio's mother, Joan, who has travelled with her family from their home in Huddersfield for the trial, broke down in tears as Ms Lees gave evidence.

The court has been told that Mr Falconio and Ms Lees - who were in Australia as part of a trip around the world - stopped their camper van at about 8pm as they drove north on the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs after a man drew alongside in his vehicle and indicated there was a problem with their exhaust.

The court heard that, when Mr Falconio got out of the van to check, he was attacked and Ms Lees was tied up with her hands bound behind her back.

She said she was bundled into the back of the man's truck but, with her hands still tied behind her back, she escaped into the bush. She said: "I knew there was no way I could run far or outrun the man, and he was following me, so I hid.

"It was pitch black so I really couldn't see it [the hiding place]. I was hiding underneath a bush, facing forwards with my hands behind my back. I was crouching and curling under the bush, head to my knees, and I put my hair over my knees to cover myself up as best I could."

She said she thought the man came near, but she did not look and was trying to keep her head down. "I didn't speak. I was trying not to breathe even."

She said one of the vehicles drove off, but later she heard footsteps as he returned. "I thought he had come back to look for me." She said she saw a torch light but then heard the second car drive off and started thinking about escaping.

"I didn't want to come out of my hiding place until I got the wrist bands off," she said. She was asked to show the jury how she moved her cuffed hands from behind her body to the front. She stood up in the witness box and demonstrated how she bent down and stepped through the cable ties and cuffs. The court heard there was "some four inches" between each of her wrists. Asked if it was a difficult move, she said "no" and added that it had taken less than a minute.

She said she tried to bite through the tape, but that did not work, so took some lip balm out of her pocket to try to ease the cuffs off. "I bit the lid off and just mushed up the lip balm and rubbed it in my hands."

Mr Murdoch, 47, denies murder, kidnapping Ms Lees and assaulting her.

The trial continues.