Inappropriate Parallel Drawn Between Bradley Murdoch and Sue Neill-Fraser Murder Convictions? Discussion in the Public Interest

Posted by Barbara Etter APM on 19 June 2015 | 4 Comments

I am providing the following comment in the public interest.

In today's article in The Mercury  by David Killick, what seems to be an inappropriate parallel is drawn between the Bradley Murdoch conviction for the high profile death of British tourist Peter Falconio in the NT in 2001 and the Sue Neill-Fraser murder conviction here in Tasmania in 2010. See here: Reference should also be made to a recent item on the Tasmanian Times website which today's Mercury article draws upon:

Mr Ellis is said to have written to the Australian Women's Weekly, in an email dated 5 May 2015, as published on the Tasmanian Times website:

“[B]ut first I point out that it was never the Crown case and it was not and is not essential to the valid conviction of Ms Neill-Fraser that the prosecution produce a murder weapon or prove a manner of death. The position in this respect is no different to the conviction of Bradley Murdoch for the murder of Peter Falconio, a wholly circumstantial case with no weapon or manner of death claimed or proven ...” (emphasis added)

You can refer to the Bradley Murdoch NT Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) decision here:

The NT CCA did acknowledge in Murdoch's case that there were a substantial number of items of circumstantial evidence [8]. See also [44].

While in both cases there was no weapon as an exhibit or a body, the nature of the evidence in both cases appears to have been quite different. For instance, there was the direct eyewitness evidence of Ms Joanne Lees who identified Murdoch as their attacker. (Murdoch was also convicted of other charges on Lees, namely deprivation of liberty and aggravated assault).

There were also several separate items of DNA evidence linking Murdoch to the crimes.

A sample of his DNA was found on Joanne Lees' t-shirt and was shown to be "150 quadrillion times more likely [to] belong to Murdoch" than anyone else. Police also found traces of Murdoch's DNA on a pair of homemade handcuffs or cable tie restraints that Murdoch was said to have used in the attack. A forensic examination of the swab from the gear knob of the Kombi van also produced a partial DNA profile that did not exclude the applicant.

The NT CCA concluded [367] - [368]:

The core issue in this case was the identity of the assailant. In our opinion the presence of the blood of the appellant upon the T-shirt of Ms Lees establishes beyond reasonable doubt the presence of the appellant at the time Ms Lees was attacked just north of Barrow Creek. When this evidence is considered along with the other evidence properly admitted at trial of events occurring at that location, the guilt of the appellant of the murder of Peter Falconio is established beyond reasonable doubt. The case against the appellant becomes overwhelming when the evidence of the identification of the appellant as the assailant by Ms Lees is taken into account. That is sufficient to conclude that no substantial miscarriage of justice has occurred and therefore to dispose of the appeal. However, there is evidence which lends further significant force to the case against the appellant, including the lie of the appellant as to his visit to the Red Rooster store and the evidence:

(a) of Ms Allan, Mr Johnston, Mr Hepi and Dr Sutisno which leads to the conclusion that the appellant was the person shown in the truck stop video;

(b) as to the similarity of the vehicle driven by the appellant to that shown in the truck stop video and, also, the similarity to the vehicle described by Ms Lees as being driven by the assailant;

(c) as to the presence of a dog in the vehicle driven by the assailant similar in identified features to the dog owned by the appellant;

(d) of the changes made by the appellant to his own appearance shortly after 14 July 2001 and

(e) of the changes made by the appellant to the appearance of his vehicle after his return to Broome on 16 July 2001.

The circumstantial evidence combined to contribute to the strength of the already compelling case against the appellant ...

We conclude there has been no substantial miscarriage of justice in this case. The appeal against conviction must be dismissed. (emphasis added)


Unlike Murdoch's case, there is no forensic evidence linking Sue Neill-Fraser to the murder of Bob Chappell and there is no direct eye-witness to the supposed event/incident that is said to have led to Mr Chappell's death. Contrary to Murdoch's case, in Neill-Fraser, there is new/fresh independent expert DNA evidence from a leading interstate forensic science centre (the Victoria Police Forensic Services Department) pointing to the possibility of another person having been involved in the incident.



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  • Mr Dodd. Please see my earlier blog on the red jacket here
    The jacket was also not located near the Four Winds dinghy. The dinghy was located floating near the rocks near the Rowing sheds and the jacket was found on a brick fence along Marieville Esplanade. Of course she was linked to the boat. It was her and Bob's boat. Where was the forensic evidence linking her to the alleged crime? It was not her DNA that was found in the latex glove alleged to be have been left behind. There was no blood spatter or blood stains on the red jacket or her navy jacket which she wore all the time? There was no weapon with her DNA or fingerprints on it?

    Posted by Barbara, 20/06/2015 7:41am (3 years ago)

  • The Crown case was that Ms Lees heard a sound like a vehicle backfiring. A man, whom she identified as the accused, came to the door of the kombi holding a silver revolver in his right hand. CCA decision [7]

    Posted by Barbara, 20/06/2015 7:34am (3 years ago)

  • Murdoch's case and appeal related to charges of murder of Falconio, deprivation of liberty ( of Lees) and aggravated assault( of Lees). In relation to the Lees charges there was direct and DNA relation to murder it was wholly circumstantial , and with no DNA link between Murdoch and Falciono.The circumstances included that the person who assaulted Lees was overwhelmingly likely to have been the person who killed Falconio. But there was no direct evidence of that, no direct witness, no means of death alleged , no body.
    It is misleading to suggest otherwise, and misleading to suggest the Court in speaking of " the case " was only speaking of the murder charge.

    Posted by Tim Ellis, 19/06/2015 6:56pm (3 years ago)

  • So ok to compare the Chamberlain case with the case of Ms Neill Fraser, but not the case of Murdoch. The relevance of The Murdoch case is that there was no body and no weapon located. How about the Bruce Burrell case where neither of his victims have been located. As for forensic evidence, that is a total furphy as she was already linked to the boat where there is reason to believe the murder occurred. She was certainly linked to the life jacket that she denied knowledge of by forensics. A reasonable opinion for the jury to come to was that she denied it was her jacket because it potentially linked her to where the dinghy was located!

    Posted by John Dodd , 19/06/2015 6:12pm (3 years ago)

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