AN Australian mechanic accused of killing British backpacker Peter Falconio on a lonely Outback highway made a brief pre-trial court appearance today by a video link from jail.
Bradley John Murdoch, 45, appeared in the Northern Territory Supreme Court hearing from Darwin Prison.
He is awaiting trial on charges he killed Mr Falconio, from Huddersfield, and assaulted the British traveller's girlfriend Joanne Lees, also from Huddersfield.
Today's hearing was a formal arraignment, required under Australia law.
The appearance came on the day Mr Falconio, from Hepworth, would have celebrated his 32nd birthday.
Murdoch allegedly flagged down the couple's camper van on a remote highway north of the central Australian city of Alice Springs on July 14, 2001, before shooting Mr Falconio and trying to abduct Miss Lees.
She managed to scramble to safety before flagging down a passing truck and raising the alarm.
The subsequent manhunt, which lasted for several months, was one of the biggest ever seen in Australia.
A huge police team was joined by forensic experts and by Aborigine trackers - called in to help in the desperate search for the missing backpacker and the hunt for the couple's attacker.
The court was told today that two weeks of legal argument over the case were scheduled to start on March 7 next year, with Murdoch's trial to follow in April.
Murdoch, wearing an orange T-shirt and dark pants, was not required to enter a plea.
But his lawyer has said he will plead innocent.
If convicted of murder, he faces a mandatory life sentence.
He is also charged with the unlawful abduction of Miss Lees, who now works in Brighton.
Miss Lees and members of Mr Falconio's family are expected to attend the trial, which is likely to last six weeks.