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MEDIA HYPE OVER KILLINGS CONDEMNED

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Huge media interest in Australia's backpacker murder case could threaten chances that the man accused of the crimes will get a fair trial, legal experts and civil libertarians said Wednesday.

Road-worker Ivan Milat, 49, was charged on Tuesday with the murders of three German, two British and two Australian backpackers after the biggest manhunt in Australian history.There has been saturation media coverage of the case since Malat was arrested on May 22. His lawyer, John Marsden, on Tuesday described some reporting as "out-ra-geous."

"The media and publicity hype that has occurred over the last two weeks is prejudicing my client's right to a fair and just trial," said Marsden. He said Milat would plead not guilty.

Retired New South Wales Supreme Court Judge Jack Lee said Marsden's call for a fair trial was absolutely necessary.

"It's a trial . . . which is based on circumstantial evidence as I understand it . . . and that's all the more reason for the media to refrain from innuendo and unnecessary commentary on the facts of the case," Lee said in a television interview.

Lee criticized media comment on the case, which included comparisons with Britain's "house of horrors" murders and praise for police involved in the case. He said such reporting made a conviction appear to be a foregone conclusion.

"I believe the courts have been overtolerant toward the sensationalizing of big cases involving important people or horrible situations such as the present case," he said.