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Sick judge puts off Staines verdict

Bhubaneswar, Sept. 8: The much-awaited verdict in the Graham Staines murder case was deferred till September 15 as the judge reported sick and went on leave.

Special CBI judge and district and sessions judge of Khurda Mahendranath Patnaik had been hearing the case for two-and-a-half years.

Sources said he is suffering from viral fever. Last year, the trial was postponed twice under the same judge because he had a similar illness.

Staines, an Australian missionary, and his sons Philip and Timothy were burnt alive inside their Willy’s station wagon on the night of January 22, 1999 by a fanatic mob.

Dara Singh, who was indicted for instigating and leading the mob at Manoharpur village of Keonjhar district, said as police led him out of the court: “We are all innocent. We had no hand in the killing of Staines. We would surely be acquitted.” His face was stoic, as it was during the trial. His fellow accused kept silent.

The man who had given the police the slip for nearly a year after the incident was dressed in a white kurta. The stiff contours of his face hardly revealing his mind as he sat in the witness box amid a heavy police presence and a herd of supporters squatted outside.

About 300 km away, in her Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home at Baripada, Staines’s widow Gladys was waiting for the judgment. She saw on television that the verdict had been postponed. “She was not disappointed. She has no other comments to make,” Subhankar Ghosh, a friend of the Staines, told The Telegraph over phone.

Additional sessions judge Sachidananda Sahu read out the one-liner at 11.30 am: “The judgment in Graham Staines case is deferred till September 15.”

The triple deaths had sparked an international outrage, forcing Delhi to set up a judicial commission headed by Supreme Court judge D.P. Wadhwa to inquire into the incident. The commission had indicted Dara. The CBI had submitted a chargesheet against 18 people, including Dara. Three are absconding.

Dara and the 14 others were brought to the Khurda district and sessions court here this morning from Choudwar jail in Cuttack. A crowd of more than 2,000 people lay in wait outside for the verdict, many of them Dara’s supporters. The police detained eight activists of the Dara Sena, a rag-tag front of his supporters, near the court.

Three platoons of the police deployed around the court barred entry into the premises. Only reporters were let in.

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