Patna/Hazaribagh, May 18: A Jharkhand court today convicted former MP Prabhunath Singh, 63, in connection with the 1995 murder of Ashok Singh, the then Janata Dal MLA from Masrakh in Saran.
The verdict comes as a blow to the once don of north Bihar who enjoyed the support of politicians ranging from Chandra Shekhar to Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad.
The court in Hazaribagh, which was hearing the case after its transfer from Bihar on orders of Patna High Court in 1997, will pronounce the quantum of punishment on May 23.
Two others have been convicted along with the former don - his brother Dinanath Singh and a former mukhiya, Ritesh Singh.
The trio were found guilty under sections 302 (murder), 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapon), 34 (common intention) of the IPC and sections 3/5 of the Explosive Substance Act and section 27 of the Arms Act.
The convicts could be punished with death or imprisonment for life.
Hazaribagh additional district and sessions judge-IX Surendra Sharma announced the order around 11.30am in a jam-packed court. While the order brought cheers on the faces of the slain legislator's relatives, the supporters of Prabhunath, who were present in the courtroom in large numbers, dispersed in dismay.
All the three convicts were taken to Jaya Prakash Narayan Central Jail in Hazaribagh. "This is for the first time that Prabhunath has been convicted for criminal offence by any court of law," said a supporter of Prabhunath, whose first political "patron" was former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, who won from Maharajganj in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls.
Prabhunath, who has been a Lok Sabha member from Maharajganj four times representing the Janata Dal and later its splinter parties, Nitish Kumar's JDU and Lalu Prasad's RJD, refused to comment on the verdict after stepping out of the courtroom. His lawyer Binod Singh said he would comment after the sentence is pronounced on May 23.
Chandni Devi, wife of the slain legislator, said: "Justice has finally been done to the family after 22 years. It was not an easy task to pursue the case for such a long period."
Ashok's mother Basanti Devi turned emotional. "I am waiting for the moment when the killers of my young son will be hanged to death. I hope the court will award the offenders the maximum punishment for the offence," she said. Ashok Singh's elder brother and former MLA, Tarkeshwar Singh, said the family had been waiting for justice for nearly 22 years. " Ishwar ke ghar mein der hai andher nahi, is all what I can say," he said.
Ashok, then a newly elected lawmaker, was attacked with crude bombs when he was sitting on the lawns of his official bungalow (M51) on Strand Road located in Patna's protected area on the evening of July 3, 1995.
Another person, identified as Anil Singh, who had come to meet Ashok from his constituency, was also killed in the attack.
Recalling the incident, Raghvendra Kumar Singh, who was the personal assistant of the slain MLA, said Ashok was sitting on the lawns after returning from the police headquarters where he had gone to meet then director-general of police G.P. Dohre to seek proper security cover while travelling to his Assembly constituency.
Around 7pm on July 3, 1995, three persons, one of them carrying a bag, entered the premises. After introducing themselves as voters of Masrakh, they expressed their desire to meet the legislator. They said they were being victimised by Prabhunath for supporting him (Ashok) in the elections that had been held a few months ago.
"After listening to them, I started walking towards the legislator to inform him. To my surprise, I found the three had also followed me to the lawns. They thanked the MLA and sat down. Ashokji finished his work (the MLA was busy writing something on his official letterhead), and enquired from the men about the purpose of their visit," Raghvendra said.
The trio said the henchmen of the former MLA (read Prabhunath) were harassing them. The MLA assured them he would do something. "As he (Ashok) was about to move, one of the three visitors took out a crude bomb from his bag and lobbed it on his face. He suffered serious injuries in the explosion," Raghvendra said.
The MLA's bodyguard, Rustam, and driver Sohrat Mahto rushed the injured Ashok to Patna Medical College and Hospital where the doctors declared him brought dead. The assailants hurled another bomb near the gate of the bungalow, killing Anil Singh. Three others suffered injuries in the process, Raghvendra said.
According to the FIR lodged with the Secretariat police station on the statement of Ashok's wife Chandni Devi, Prabhunath, his brother Dina Nath Singh and three or four others were watching the scene from a spot a stone's throw away from the bungalow. After the incident, they escaped in a car which was being driven by Prabhunath, Chandni said in her complaint.
During the course of investigation, the names of other accused - Ritesh Singh (former mukhiya), Kedar Singh (another brother of Prabhunath) and Sudhir Singh (assailant) - were added in the FIR. The trial of Kedar and Sudhir had been separated.