Mechanic must stand trial for British backpacker's murder

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The Independent Online

A mechanic was ordered today to stand trial for the alleged murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio in the Australian Outback three years ago.

A mechanic was ordered today to stand trial for the alleged murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio in the Australian Outback three years ago.

After a five-week preliminary hearing in Darwin Magistrates court, magistrate Alasdair McGregor found there was enough evidence against Bradley John Murdoch, 45, for him to stand trial in the Northern Territory Supreme Court charged with the murder of 28-year-old Falconio on 14 July, 2001.

Murdoch also will be tried for deprivation of liberty and unlawful assault of Falconio's 27-year-old girlfriend, Joanne Lees. No date was immediately set for the trial, which is expected to be held next year.

Murdoch, who has yet to formally enter a plea to any of the charges, said he was innocent.

"I am not guilty of any of these allegations, your honor," Murdoch said when the magistrate asked if he wanted to say anything in his defence.

The court heard from more than 50 witnesses over five weeks, including Lees and Falconio's brother Paul.

The prosecution alleges Lees and Falconio were traveling in a camper van along a remote desert highway shortly after dark when Murdoch pulled alongside in his pickup truck and flagged them down on the pretense of a mechanical problem.

He allegedly shot Falconio and bound and gagged Lees but she managed to flee into the desert night after a brief struggle and raise the alarm, sparking one of the biggest manhunts in Australian criminal history.

Aboriginal trackers and hundreds of police on motorbikes and in helicopters scoured an area of Outback the size of France in the days after Falconio's disappearance hunting for his killer or a trace of the backpacker's body — which has never been found.

Murdoch eventually was arrested months later and hundreds of kilometers (miles) away in southern Australia. He was initially arrested on an unrelated rape charge of which he was later cleared, before Northern Territory police arrested him in connection with Falconio's slaying.

The committal hearing heard evidence that Murdoch carried a weapon and ties similar to the ones used to truss up Lees in his pickup, and that he altered the truck's and his own appearance in the weeks after Falconio's disappearance.

Meanwhile, court officials said a man charged with murdering another British backpacker, Caroline Stuttle, will go on trial at Queensland Supreme Court on 27 September.

Ian Douglas Previte is charged with pushing the 19-year-old tourist from York in northern England off a bridge in Bundaberg, 220 miles north of Brisbane. He faces life imprisonment if convicted.

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