The drug runner who murdered British backpacker Peter Falconio will serve at least 28 years in prison before being considered for parole, a court heard today.
Bradley Murdoch shot Mr Falconio in the head before abducting and assaulting his girlfriend Joanne Lees at gunpoint, on a remote stretch of highway near Barrow Creek, about 200 miles north of Alice Springs, on July 14, 2001.
Fixing the 28-year non-parole period today, Chief Justice Brian Martin said Murdoch was a cold-blooded killer whose actions were "cowardly in the extreme" and who had shown a complete lack of remorse during the trial.
There was a "real prospect" that Murdoch, 47, of Broome, Western Australia, would die in jail, the judge said.
Mr Falconio's mother Joan, of Holmfirth, Huddersfield, said Murdoch's actions had torn her family apart and that she had wanted to die "many times" after losing her son, the Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin heard.
She said she had been living in constant physical and mental pain, and not knowing what had happened to her son had been unbearable.
Miss Lees, who has faced constant smears since her boyfriend disappeared, said she had nightmares about being jailed after the attack, and said her dreams of marrying Mr Falconio and having his children had been destroyed.
She said she had been left "sceptical, untrusting, fearful and heartbroken".
"It is lonely being me," she said.
The young couple had set out on a "trip of a lifetime" and were travelling along the Stuart Highway when Murdoch flagged them down in their orange camper van.
He shot Mr Falconio dead before threatening Miss Lees with a gun to her head, and painfully tying her up with her hands behind her back.
She managed to escape and hide in the bush for more than five hours on the moonless night before being rescued, but Mr Falconio, of Hepworth, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, was never seen again and no body has been found.
The judge said: "On 14 July 2001, you destroyed not only their plans, but the life of Peter Falconio."
He said that Miss Lees's escape placed Murdoch "in a position of great difficulty" so he put Mr Falconio's body into the rear of his car and it was "likely" he buried it somewhere between Barrow Creek and Alice Springs.
"Although you knew Miss Lees had escaped and would at some time raise the alarm, you were cleaning up in an endeavour to get rid of evidence and to give yourself as much time as possible to escape from the scene," the judge said.
He said that Miss Lees, a 32-year-old support worker from Brighton, was "terrified" as she hid in the bush for more than five hours before she jumped out in front of a road train truck and was rescued.
"It was a desperate act and one which could easily have cost Miss Lees her life. This short overview of the facts is sufficient to demonstrate the brutality of your crimes. You needlessly cut short the life of a young man who had an extremely bright future."
The judge said the pain would never leave Mr Falconio's mother and praised Miss Lees's courage, telling Murdoch it was "difficult to imagine the true extent of the terror" he inflicted.
"It must have been close to the worst nightmare imaginable. Unlike you, Miss Lees displayed considerable courage."
He rejected innuendo and suggestions implied by Murdoch's defence team that Miss Lees was somehow involved in her boyfriend's disappearance, or that Mr Falconio was still alive.
"It is to be hoped, Mr Murdoch, that one day in the future while Mr Falconio's parents are young enough and in sufficient health to find some peace, you will see your way clear to help them find their peace, by disclosing where you buried the body of their son.
"Given your current attitude, I am not hopeful that you will ever co-operate to this extent."
He said that it was not known why or when Murdoch first decided to kill Mr Falconio, nor why he constructed the "well-made" handcuffs used to bind Miss Lees's hands behind her back.
He suggested Murdoch may have left his camper trailer hidden in the bush and set off to abduct a young woman with the idea of taking her back to his trailer.
"Tragically, you succeeded in killing Mr Falconio but, fortunately, as a consequence of the presence of mind and courage, for which Miss Lees should be praised, she managed to escape.
"Your conduct in murdering Mr Falconio and attacking Miss Lees was nothing short of cowardly in the extreme."
The judge also sentenced Murdoch to four years' imprisonment for abducting Miss Lees, and two years for assaulting her, both to run concurrently to the life sentence.
He said: "I am drawn to the conclusion that your prospects of rehabilitation are minimal. The nature of your crimes, your personal history, your obvious aggression and complete lack of remorse for the commission of the crimes or for the devastating impact upon others, coupled with your maturity, paint a bleak picture of your prospects of rehabilitation."
The court had been told he had a violent past, was given a suspended three-month sentence on February 5 1980 for causing death by dangerous driving in South Australia, and had been jailed previously for shooting at a group of Aborigines he claimed were harassing him.
But the court was not told that he was arrested for Mr Falconio's murder after he was cleared in November 2003 of charges of rape, false imprisonment and assault in a case which had several similarities to the Falconio case, including the way in which the victims were tied up.
Officers who arrested Murdoch for the rape of a 12-year-old girl in Riverland, South Australia, discovered a hoard of weapons inside his van, including a high-powered rifle, night vision goggles, almost 800 rounds of ammunition, a knife, a crossbow with 13 bolts, an electric cattle prod, chains and shackles similar to those used to bind the wrists of Miss Lees.
Murdoch, who had been sitting in the dock wearing a light blue shirt and beige trousers, taking sips of water, showed no reaction in the dock as he was sent down.
In the public gallery at the back of the court, Miss Lees put her hand to her mouth and Mr Falconio's brother Nick placed his arm around her shoulders as the 28-year non-parole term was read out.
Outside court, Mr Falconio's father Luciano said he was "very happy indeed" with the sentencing.Reuse content