Bhubaneswar, Sept. 7 (PTI): Four years and seven months after Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons were killed at Manoharpur village in Orissa, all eyes are focused on a local court that will pronounce its judgment tomorrow.
District and sessions judge of Khurda M.. Patnaik will give the verdict after hearing the case for about two-and-a-half years.
Staines and his sons — Philip, 11, and Timothy, 7 — were asleep in their station wagon at Manoharpur in Keonjhar district on the night of January 22, 1999, when it was attacked. A mob set it ablaze, burning the missionary and his children to death even as terror-struck villagers watched in fear, the prosecution lawyers had told the court.
Based in Baripada, the district headquarters of neighbouring Mayurbhanj, Staines had been running a home for leprosy patients. With his two sons and friends, he had gone to Manoharpur to conduct a camp for the villagers — an annual gathering of Christians for fellowship and teaching.
The killings sparked outrage within and outside the country. The Centre had set up a judicial commission headed by Supreme Court judge D.P. Wadhwa to inquire into the crime.
The commission concluded that prime accused Dara Singh alias Ravindra Kumar Pal was responsible for the crime as he had motivated tribal youths to attack the missionary. The act of murder was inspired by Dara and no authority, organisation or any other person played any role in the killings, the report, submitted in June 1999, said.
The commission also said that though Staines was involved in spreading the gospel as a missionary, he was not involved in conversions, an accusation held against Dara during the trial.
When the commission held him guilty, Dara was still at large, roaming the forests of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar, and had turned into a sort of local legend. He was nabbed by police a year after the incident.
Two months after the triple murders, the investigation was handed over to the CBI. The agency submitted its chargesheet against 18 persons, including Dara, on June 22, 1999. Fifteen of them were arrested. Three are absconding.
Chenchu Hansda was tried in a juvenile court and convicted. He is now in a remand home. The 14 others who faced trial, besides Dara, were Rajat Kumar Das alias Dipu Das, Aniruddha Dandapat alias Andha Nayak, Mahendra Hembram, Ojen Hansda, Umakanta Bhoi, Kartik Lohar, Rabi Soren, Dayanidhi Patra, Mahadeb Mahanta, Harish Mahanta, Thuram Ho and Surath Nayak.
The trial began on March 1, 2001. The CBI had submitted a list of 108 witnesses, which included Gladys Staines, the missionary’s widow.
The court proceedings took a twist on February 1, 2002, when Hembram shouted from the dock that he wanted to confess. He claimed responsibility for the murders, saying he had set the station wagon on fire.
However, this April, Patra confessed that he was part of the group that attacked Staines. He added that Dara had set fire to the vehicle.
The case took an ugly turn towards the fag end when a defence witness, Hemalata Karua, claimed that the missionary had attempted to molest her a day before his death.