A DRUG runner who killed backpacker Peter Falconio was told today he must serve at least 28 years in prison before being considered for parole.
Bradley Murdoch, 47, of Broome, Western Australia, was jailed for life for murdering Peter and abducting and assaulting his girlfriend Joanne Lees on a remote highway in the Australian Outback on July 14, 2001.
Jailing him today, Chief Justice Brian Martin said Murdoch was a "cold-blooded" killer whose prospects of rehabilitation were minimal.
The judge also praised Joanne's courage as he also sentenced Murdoch to four years for depriving Joanne of her liberty and two years for unlawful assault with aggravating factors. All three sentences will be served concurrently.
Murdoch showed no emotion as he was jailed, but looked at the judge and moved quickly from his seat to the cells when sent down.
The judge said he was "satisfied there is a complete lack of remorse".
The court also heard Murdoch had been given a suspended three-month sentence on February 5, 1980, for causing death by dangerous driving in South Australia.
The sentencing came after victim impact statements were read to the Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin from Joanne and from Peter's mother, Joan Falconio.
Joanne said it was impossible to convey the magnitude of the impact this crime had had on her, her relation ships, family and friends in such a short statement. Some aspects of the investigative process had been hurtful and insensitive and had caused considerable anxiety. Because of the massive media interest she had had move home eight times. The emotional scars of that night remained and she was sceptical, untrusting, fearful and heartbroken.
Mrs Falconio said after hearing the news about Peter, the torment and constant physical pain never left her body for months. She had suffered panic and anxiety attacks and many times she had wanted to die.
Sometimes the tension was so great she thought her marriage would collapse. The Press were intrusive and had invaded the family's privacy. The trial had been long and very harrowing. The pain would never go away.
Chief Justice Martin said: "The jury has found you guilty of three crimes.
"I sentence you on the basis of the facts that I find proven and that are consistent with the verdicts of the jury."
He said Murdoch had shot Peter, from Hepworth, in the head after flagging down the couple's camper van on the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek, about 200 miles north of Alice Springs.
He said Murdoch was "menacing" as he tied Joanne's hands painfully behind her back and forced her into his white Toyota Landcruiser.
"From time to time Joanne was calling for Peter and asking what you had done. You told Joanne that you had not killed Peter," he said.
It was fortunate that Joanne had gathered the strength and resolve to edge her way out.
"Joanne's escape placed you in a position of great difficulty," he said. "The body of Peter Falconio was lying on the side of the Stuart Highway between the two vehicles.
"Although the area was deserted you could not risk the possibility that a vehicle would come along.
"I am satisfied that you put the body into the rear of your vehicle.
"Although you knew Joanne 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."
He said that, "not surprisingly" Joanne "terrified" as she hid in the bush for more than five hours before being rescued.
"While she was hiding under the bush she brought her hands from her back to her front, which she was able to achieve because of her slender build and flexibility."
The judge said Joanne had jumped out in front of a road train truck on the Stuart Highway: "It was a desperate act and one which could easily have cost Joanne her life.
"In the meantime, you travelled to Alice Springs, where you refuelled, and then across the Tanami to Broome.
"Somewhere on that journey, you buried the body of Peter Falconio. It appears likely that you did so before reaching Alice Springs."
He said Murdoch then set about changing his appearance, and that of his vehicle in a bid to avoid being caught.
The judge said: "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. In doing so you have caused great trauma and grief to those close to him, particularly to Joanne and the immediate family.
"As Mrs Falconio has said, the pain will never leave her.
"Mr Falconio (Peter Falconio's father, Luciano) strikes me as a stoical person, but I have no doubt that he is in the same position.
"From the calm and detached atmosphere of this courtroom, it is difficult to imagine the true extent of the terror that you inflicted upon Joanne.
"I doubt that any description is capable of fully conveying the true extent of the trauma and terror that you imposed upon her.
"It must have been close to the worst nightmare imaginable. The trauma did not end with her escape.
"It is difficult to appreciate the stress associated with the subsequent investigation and the enormous media attention.
"The extent and impact of that attention cannot be visited upon you because, ordinarily, such attention would not be expected as a consequence of the crimes you committed.
"It cannot be left unsaid that the manner in which you have conducted your defence has been an aggravating factor for Joanne and the family of Peter Falconio."
Referring to Joanne's admission that she had "overstepped the boundaries of friendship" with a man called Nick Riley in Sydney, while going out with Mr Falconio, the judge said: "You explored with Joanne, in the public form of the preliminary examination, events that were utterly irrelevant and served no useful purpose except to embarrass her by endeavouring to cast a shadow over her reputation.
"At trial, in the face of a powerful crown case, you endeavoured to darken that shadow in suggesting to the jury that not only was Joanne an unreliable witness, but she was not telling the truth about the disappearance of Peter Falconio.
"You pursued the idea that he was still alive and the conduct of your defence was such that it conveyed the clear innuendo that Joanne was implicated in his disappearance.
"By their verdicts the jury rejected those assertions. I too reject those suggestions."
The judge said: "You are not to be punished for the way in which you conducted your defence.
"However, it is appropriate to note that you have not done anything in the conduct of your defence to ameliorate the impacts of your crimes.
"I am unable to discern any signs of remorse and the conduct of your case is demonstrable of your complete lack of remorse.
"It is to be hoped, Mr Murdoch, that one day in the future while Peter 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 it was not known why or when Murdoch first decided to kill Peter, nor why he constructed the "well-made" handcuffs used to bind Joanne's hands.
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.
He also said Murdoch was a heavy user of amphetamines in order to stay alert while transporting large amounts of cannabis long distances across Australia.
But the judge also highlighted the adverse side effects of using amphetamines, which he said included "hallucinations, illusions and paranoia".
The judge said: "I mention all these possibilities to emphasise only you know the answers to these questions.
"Whether you will ever reach the stage of rehabilitation of being able to acknowledge your guilt and explain your motivations for your conduct remains to be seen.
"There are many adjectives that could be used to describe the cold-blooded nature and brutality of your conduct. I will not use those adjectives."
The judge said he believed Murdoch's prospects of rehabilitation were minimal. He had taken into account Murdoch's age and the "real prospect he would die in jail".
"I fix a non-parole period of 28 years, commencing on November 10, 2003."
After the sentencing, in the public gallery, Joanne put her hand to her mouth and Peter's brother Nick placed his arm around her shoulder.
Outside court, Mr Falconio's father said he was "very happy indeed" with the sentencing, but no-one else would comment to reporters.
Murdoch's barrister Grant Algie said Murdoch may be "quite a different person to the person he is now" in 20 years. A 20-year non-parole period was "a very long time".