| Dara Singh (centre) leaves the heavily-guarded court on Monday. As many as 12 platoons of police were deployed around the court. (Reuters)
Bhubaneswar, Sept. 22: The man who got death betrayed no emotion, but his 12 fellow convicts turned pale as the judge sentenced them to life in prison.
Dara Singh remained impassive as judge Mahandra Nath Patnaik today handed him the death sentence for the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons more than four years ago in Orissa.
Soon after the verdict, Dara patted his co-accused on the back. “We will go to high court,” he told them as they stood numb in the dock under heavy police guard. He then looked for a mobile phone to talk to his father.
But late in the evening, his lawyer Bana Mohanty said Dara has decided against going on appeal “as of now” in the higher court against the death sentence, which has to be confirmed by the high court. Dara, he added, had also gone into a “depression”.
In the packed courtroom, the 12 co-accused — Dipu Das, Surath Nayak, Mahendra Hembram, Renta Hembram, Harish Mohanta, Kartik Lohar, Mahadeb Mohanta, Thurram Ho, Daya Patra, Ojen Hansda, Rabi Soren and Umakanta Bhoi — looked shattered. The parents of Bhoi and Lohar had come to the court this morning. They left weeping after the judgment was read out at 4.34 this afternoon.
All the convicts were sentenced under various sections of the Indian Penal Code — 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), 148 (rioting with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly in prosecution of a common object), 435 and 436 (committing mischief by fire or explosive substance) and 302 (murder) read with 149. Dara was separately convicted under Section 302. The judge said Dara’s death sentence was subject to confirmation by the high court under Section 366 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Last Monday, Dara and the others had been convicted of attacking Staines and his two sons — Philip (11) and Timothy (8) — as they slept in their station wagon and then setting the vehicle on fire. The incident in Manoharpur, a village in Keonjhar district, on the intervening night of January 22-23, 1999 had stunned the nation. Three of the accused continue to evade arrest.
In Baripada, Gladys Staines, the widow of the slain missionary who has stayed on to run a home for leprosy patients, iterated that she had forgiven the killers of her husband and sons but would not comment on the death sentence. “No individual is above the law of the land. Forgiveness and the consequences of the crime should not be mixed up,” she said in a statement.
The All India Christian Council hailed the verdict as a “vindication of the faith of the common man and especially of the Christian community in the judicial system”.
Dara’s legal team pleaded for lesser punishment, requesting the court to take into account his family’s poor economic background and the condition of his ailing father. The lawyers said Dara’s 85-year-old father was bed-ridden at a hospital, while his only brother was a psychiatric patient.
CBI counsel K. Sudhakar countered the plea, saying the convicts had done nothing to save the two children when the vehicle was on fire. The verdict “will increase public faith in the judicial system”, Sudhakar told reporters later.