Sample Case Study Paper on The Backpacker Murders



Serial killers are often associated with the perpetration of willful murder .The Australian Criminal Code defines willful murder to basically mean the intentional, unlawful killing of another person.[1]The burden to prove guilt in murder cases are usually the prosecutor’s. This means that the prosecutor on a given case must strive to prove a person’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The definition given with regard to murder by the statute also include intentional killing of another person.[2]


Upon the proving of guilt in murder cases, sentencing of the convicted murderer usually follows. Sentencing of perpetrators of crimes is regarded as a legal sanction for wrongs done.[3] One type of sanctions that may be imposed on a convicted murderer is the natural life sentencing.[4] However, this type of sanction may be considered as inhumane.



The famous notorious backpacker murders that were allegedly committed by Ivan Milat involved the killing of seven backpackers that included Deborah Everist and James Gibson who lived in Victoria, Caroline Clarke and Joann Walters who resided in the United Kingdom and Anja Habscheid, Simone Schmidl and Gabor Neugebeuer who were all German nationals.[5]


All the seven victims ranged between nineteen and twenty two years. At the time they met their untimely deaths; they had travelled to Sydney and were hitchhiking south as they were to attend a musical festival named Confest near Albury as it was accounted by one of the victims’ mother in a subsequent interview in 2006.[6] The victims were murdered and buried in the Belango State Forest were they were discovered between September1992 and November 1993 after they had gone missing between December 1989 and April 1992. At the time of discovery, the victims’ bodies had considerably decomposed.[7]


All victims bore the signs of brutal attacks that ranged from decapitation, multiple gun shots in their heads, stab wounds, strangulation and spinal cord severing as it was determined by the forensic team that was involved in conducting the forensic study of the case. Moreover, the forensic report ascertained that all victims except one had been sexually abused either prior to their deaths or after they had been killed.[8]


The accused person in this series of inhumane killings, Mr. Ivan Robert Marko Milat was born in 1947 to a migrant family from Yugoslavia in Guildford, Australia as one of their fourteen children.  Ivan Milat started being constantly in conflict with the law from a tender age. Before the Backpackers series of murders, Milat had been acquitted from a couple of alleged rape cases in 1971 for lack of convincing evidence against him by the prosecutor in the case.[9]



After the first and the second set of decomposing bodies that belonged to the backpackers had been discovered and recovered, questions were raised by all concerned persons including the public in Australia and the international community at Large. Meanwhile, what had first appeared as an isolated crime started to be considered in a new light; as the possible thorough work of a serial killer prompting the Australian police department to launch serious investigations with the aim of catching up with the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crimes.[10]


However, even after investigations were conducted through constant public informants, no convincing information with regard to a possible suspect lead was obtained.  It was after a former alleged Ivan Milat’s survived victim who was a United Kingdom’s national went to the police and volunteered more information about his almost attack that more hope with regard to the case arose.


The surviving Milat’s victim, Mr. Paul Onions, was very helpful in positively detailing the accused physical appearance that later helped in his apprehension.[11] Paul Onions had previously sought the help of the police in 1990 when the accused had offered him a lift in his car identifying himself as Bill, along the road where the remains of the seven backpackers had later been discovered. Onions had escaped narrowly after Milat went ahead to threaten him with a gun that led to Onion’s fleeing from the vehicle and leaving his possession that included his travelling documents behind. He had narrated to the police that he had been granted a lift by a passing lady before reporting the incidence to the Australian police. Onions had been in Australia in search of a job.[12]


Following the incident, Onions had returned home in the United Kingdom until the uneventful incident of the backpackers murders when he came forward and volunteered the information about his encounter with Milat.[13] His 1990 details were corroborated by the lady who had offered him a lift. It was this fact that eventually gave the police a legal opportunity to apprehend Ivan Milat.


Following his apprehension by the police, belongings of the victims such as their clothing were recovered in his house and his mother’s house where he had been living at the time when the backpackers’ incident had occurred.  The police were also able to identify weapons that had been used in the commission of the murders in question.[14] A shirt that Onion had described as part of the property he had left in Milat’s vehicle upon fleeing was also among the items that were recovered in his mother’s house[15] further corroborating the facts that had been given by Onions.


In 1994 following this, Ivan Milat and his brother Walter were arrested after the police found a 22 caliber firearm that was similar to that which had been used in inflicting multiple gun shots on the victims.  Initially Milat was arrested on account of robbery but his arrest details were amended to include seven counts of murder.[16]




Trial and Sentencing

In the Court of First Instance

Upon his arrest, Ivan Milat was charged with robbery and possession of weapon on May 23 1994 and brought before the trial court for plea entering. The charges however were amended to include seven counts of murder by May 30 1994 and the court ruled that he had a case to answer. The accused maintained that he was not guilty even after charges included murder. The prosecution was called upon to present its case, a task which took it twelve weeks. Within this duration of time, the prosecution had presented various pieces of evidence that sought to incriminate him.[17]


On the prosecution’s side, the only alleged victim of Ivan Milat, Paul Onions was called upon to take the stand as he gave his testimony of the unnerving of the events of 1991. Paul Onions was a key witness in these series of murder charges as he was the one who had identified the murder suspect. Members of the Milat family also took to the witness box and presented the court with their testimonies.[18] The forensic team was also called upon to give their expert opinion as well as a DNA profiling specialist that went ahead to indicate that in his expert opinion a cloth that had been retrieved from the accused person’s garage had blood that matched the DNA of one  the murder victims, Caroline Clarke.[19] The court was presented with exhibit evidence that included photos of the seven victims that had been taken as they had been discovered in the shallow graves where they had been buried by their murderer.


Once the prosecution case was closed, the Ivan Milat’s defence team was called upon to present its case. Milat denied all the accusations that had been brought against him. The accused tried to poke holes on the prosecutor’s evidence without avail in the next three weeks that followed the prosecutor’s presentation.[20]


After both sides had presented their side of the case, the jury found Ivan Milat guilty in all seven counts of murder this was even though Hunt, J had gone ahead in opining that it would have been almost impossible for a sole person to have committed the seven backpack murders.[21] A conviction judgment was read by Chief Justice David Hunt who was presiding over the case. The accused was to serve six years imprisonment for attacking Paul Onions and seven consecutive life imprisonments. The judgment which was entered in 1996 was subsequently followed by Ivan Milat’s incarceration in Goulburn Prison under maximum security surveillance.[22]


The Appeal Case

Following Ivan Milat’s conviction by the Court of First Instance, he sought to appeal the decision in 1996. The appeal was lodged in the Supreme Court of New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeals. Mr. Ivan Milat the appellant, sought a declaration order that Justice David Hunt, the presiding trial judge had made a mistake by admitting photographic identification as the method that was used to identify him as Paul Onions attacker. He also asked the court to look into the possibility that the trial jury had been influenced by the media in rendering the decision against him.[23]


The hearing of the appeal was scheduled for November, 4, 1996[24] and the appellant notified the Court of Appeal that he would be representing himself before it. In determining the first issue with regard to photographic identification; the Court of Criminal Appeals, examined the evidence that was used in identifying the appellant. In the trial court, the appellant had been positively identified by Paul Onions among thirteen photographs of suspects that had been presented to him. The witness had gone ahead to identify Ivan through the distinctive moustache that he wore at the time he was alleged to have attacked Onions.


Ivan’s identification through the moustache had further been corroborated by a photograph that he had taken wearing the same moustache. The appellant disputed the identification method used by informing the court of the fact that Onions’ original description of him varied from his true appearance. Onion had described him as being in his thirties while in fact he was forty six at the time the original identification was conducted.[25]


Further, the appellant submitted that the identification proceedings were not videotaped. He stated that this was an ‘unforgivable mistake’ on the part of the jury for having been partly informed by the method of identification used to identify him by Onions in convicting him.

In dismissing his first submission, the Court of Criminal Appeals, held that the Court of First Instance did not err in law by admitting as evidence the photograph by which the appellant had been identified using by Paul Onions. The Court of Appeal stated that evidence that had been presented before the trial court by the prosecution in aim to identify the appellant was undisputedly corroborated by evidence that distinctively helped identify the appellant. The Appellate Court concluded that Honorable Justice David Hunt was not unfair in accepting photographic evidence as a form of identifying the appellant.[26]


On the media’s influential role in the determination of the trial court, Ivan argued that due to comments the prosecutor had made and were publicized, the jury had been influenced by the public’s opinion. The court in determining this possibility, acknowledged the fact that the case had aroused global attention and emotions..[27]


The appellant further argued that some prosecution witnesses may have been influenced by the publicity of some of his photos that had been published in the ‘Who’ Magazine resulting to unfair justice. The release of these photos saw the ‘Who’ Magazine get sued [28]on the ground of contempt of court. In this case the trial court stated that publication of the appellant’s photographs could affect the administration of justice. However, the court stated that such publication would not influence justice administration in the case.


All presiding judges in the Court of Criminal Appeal agreed that they were satisfied beyond any reasonable doubt that the trial had been conducted fairly and was justly decided by the trial jury. The case was dismissed by the court.


Appeal in the High Court of Australia

In 2004, Ivan Milat sought to file an appeal to the High Court of Australia appealing his conviction. However, an application for special leave to lodge an appeal in the case was denied by the three high court judges that were determining the application. In denying the applicant’s plea, the learned Gummow J. stated that the Court of Criminal Appeals had decided the matter justly. Furthermore, the Judge went ahead to state that the time stipulated under the statute with regard to applications for appeal in the High Court of Australia had long expired.[29]


Appeals in the Supreme Court of the New South Wales

The dismissal of Mirat’s application to file an appeal in the High Court of Australia saw him bring another application of appeal in the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 2005.[30] The appeal sought an inquiry in Mirat’s multiple life sentence convictions. The application submitted argued that Mirat’s conviction was unfair as the trial court had raised doubts as to whether he was an alleged sole perpetrator in the famous ‘Backpack’ murders of the early 90’s.[31]


In a written submission of fifty pages, Mirat application for an inquiry on his conviction revolved around evidence that had been made against his motor vehicle. The applicant submitted that the court had been misled by the testimonies of Paul Onions and Mrs. Berry (the lady that gave Onions a lift after he was alleged attacked by Ivan Mirat) when they described the features that they had used to identify the vehicle of Mirat. However, it was concluded that Ivan Mirat had been described beyond any reasonable doubt that he was the attacker of Paul Onions.


The application for inquiry into the conviction of Ivan Mirat was dismissed. The court interpreted section 474D, to mean that once a person was convicted either at the trial stage or at the appellate courts and such a person subsequently exhausted all the appeal avenues available to him, the provision of section 471D could not be construed to mean that such a person had been provided with a new avenue of appeal. The Supreme Court of New South Wales went ahead to state that the ground for appeal had already been dealt with at the trial court and at the subsequent appeal stage of the case. It was held that submissions before the court did not rise any doubt of the applicants guilt.


The following year; 2006,[32] Milat brought another application under section 78. The issue for determination was whether evidence adduced before the trial court was legally acceptable. The application was made to inquire into his conviction and sentencing. Similarly, the application was set aside on the ground that it did not raise any doubt that he was not guilty.


In 2008,[33] Ivan Milat made a third application to the New South Wales Supreme Court of the inquiry of his conviction seeking a declaration that the crown court was wrong in convicting him under section 474D of the Crimes Act of 1900. However, the application in this case was treated as having been made under section 78 of the Repealed Act. In the present application, he argued that since the Crown Court could not determine whether the Backpacker murders had been committed by a single person, it did not have to convict him.[34]


Chief Justice McClellan in his opinion stated that the trial court was only tasked with the duty of determining whether the appellant was guilty or not and not whether other persons had been involved; a duty that was well executed. The application was dismissed for lack of raising any doubt on the applicant‘s guilt.[35]


In 2010, Mirat made his fourth application on the inquiry of his conviction and sentencing by the Crown court. In the present application, hand written submissions were made raising several issues; his concern over the reliability of the trial court’s primary evidence, the existence of new pieces of evidence and submission that the DNA evidence did not implicate the applicant in the series of murders and that he had an alibi. The Court in dismissing the application stated that there were no special facts that justified further action.


His 2010[36] application was followed by a 2014[37] similar application that was subsequently denied. In 2015, he made his sixth application to the same court on the inquiry of his conviction and sentencing. The application was brought pursuant to the provisions of section 78 of the repealed Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001. The application was dismissed on the ground that it was a repetition of the previous five applications.[38]



The infamous Backpacker murders are some of recent history’s famous vicious attacks to be recorded. The attacks were perpetrated by seventy one year old Ivan Robert Marko Milat who at the time of arrest was forty six. He was solely convicted and sentenced for seven consecutive life imprisonments under maximum security surveillance. His conviction was upheld although the court was dubious of the possibility of him solely committing the murders of his seven victims.  During his trial DNA evidence had only concluded of the high probability of the involvement of one or more of the Milat’s family members in perpetrating the crimes but it was not clearly established who among the Milat’s had committed the murders.

[1] The Austlarian Criminal Code Act, section 278

[2] Ibid, section 279

[3]Mackenzie Geraldine, ‘A Question of Balance: A Study of Judicial Methodology, Perceptions and Attitudes in Sentencing’, 2001, UNSWLawTD2.                                                                                       Retrieved November,13, 2016

[4]Australian Crimes Act 1900, section 19A

[5] Regina v Ivan Robert Marko Milat, No.70114 of 1994 DNA-Statistical Validity of Data Bases (1996) NSWSC 382 (29 August 1996)

[6] The Sunday Morning Herald, 23/4/2006 Retrieved November,13,2016

[7] Regina v Ivan Robert Marko Milat, (note1)


[9] ‘Ivan Robert Marko Milat – Backpack Murderer’ November,13,2016 Retrieved November, 13, 2016

[10] ibid

[11] Regina v Ivan Robert Marko Milat, [2005] NSWSC 920( October,27,2005)

[12] Ibid

[13] ibid

[14] ‘Ivan Milat: The Evidence by the Late Investigator Brian Raven,’ October, 1, 2010.  Retrieved November,13, 2016

[15] ibid

[16] Supra note 5

[17] Michael Newton, 2006, ‘ The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers’, Retrieved November, 13,2016

[18] ibid

[19] Supra note 1

[20] Ibid note13

[21] Application by Ivan Robert Marko Milat pursuant to S78 Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 (NSW) (2014) NSWSC 434 (April 2014)

[22] Supra note 10

[23] Regina v Milat, Matter No.Cca 60438/96 (1998) NSWSC 795 (February, 26, 1998) Retrieved November,13,2016

[24] Ibid

[25] ibid

[26] ibid

[27] ibid

[28] Attorney General for New South Wales v Time Inc, Court of Appeal (Unreported), October,21,1994

[29] Milat v The Queen ,(2004) HCA Trans 179(May,29,2004) Retrieved November,13,2016

[30] Regina v Ivan Robert Marko Milat, (2005)NSWSC 920 (October,25,2005) Retrieved November,13,2016

[31] ibid

[32] Milat, (2006) NSWSC 1391 (December,14,2006) Retrieved November,13,2016

[33] Milat Inquiry into Conviction and Sentence (2008)NSWSC 732 (July, 17,2008) Retrieved November,13,2016

[34] ibid

[35] ibid

[36] Milat Application Inquiry into Conviction and Sentence Pursuant to s 78 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 (2010) NSWSC 1292 (November,11,2010) Retrieved November,13,2016

[37] Application by Ivan Robert Marko Milat Pursuant to s 78 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 (NSW) (2014) NSWSC 434 Retrieved November,13,2016

[38] Ivan, Robert Marko Milat Application Pursuant to s 78 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 (2015) NSWSC 209 March ,13,2015 Retrieved November,13,2016