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Verdict in Staines case on Sept 15

Source: PTI
Last updated on: September 08, 2003 11:42 IST
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A local court in Bhubaneswar on Monday put off till September 15 announcement of the verdict in the murder case of Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons at Manoharpur village, Orissa.

The postponement was because District and Sessions Judge, Khurda, M N Patnaik, in whose court the case was tried for two-and-a-half years, was down with viral fever, according to reports.

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 a crowd reportedly attacked the vehicle.

As per the prosecution, the crowd set ablaze the vehicle, burning to death the three even as terror-struck villagers watched.

Based at Baripada, the headquarter town of neighbouring Mayurbhanj district, Staines had been running a home for leprosy patients there.

He, along with his two sons and some friends, had gone to Manoharpur to conduct a jungle camp for the local villagers -- an annual gathering of Christians for fellowship and teaching.

The killings sparked national and international outrage, causing the central government to set up a judicial commission headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, Justice D P Wadhwa, to inquire into the crime.

The incident was described by the then President K R Narayanan as an act that belongs to the world's inventory of black deeds.

The commission, in its findings, came to the conclusion that the prime accused in the case, Dara Singh alias Ravindra Kumar Pal, was responsible for the crime, as he had motivated some tribal youths to attack the missionary.

No authority or organisation played any role in the killings, it said in its report submitted in June 1999.

The commission also said that though Staines was involved in spreading the gospel, he was not involved in conversions, an accusation held against him during the trial.

When the commission held him guilty, Dara Singh was still at large roaming the forests of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts and had turned into some sort of a legend in the area. The police nabbed him a year after the incident.

The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation two months later.

The agency submitted its charge sheet against 18 people, including Dara Singh, on June 22, 1999. Fifteen of them were arrested while three are still absconding.

One of the arrested, Chenchu Hansda, was tried in a juvenile court and convicted. He is currently in a juvenile remand home.             

The trial, which began on March 1, 2001, will go down in the annals of Orissa's judicial history as one of the most high-profile.

The CBI had submitted a list of 108 witnesses of whom only 55 were examined as prosecution witnesses. The defence made 25 other witnesses appear in the court.

The prosecution witness included Gladys Staines, the missionary's widow.

Initially, Dara Singh and the other accused were being brought to Bhubaneswar from Baripada jail to face trial, as he was also required to appear before courts in Mayurbhanj district in other cases.

But they were later shifted to Bhubaneswar Special Jail and subsequently lodged in Choudwar Central Jail.

The entire court proceedings took a strange twist on February 1, 2002, when one of the accused, Mahendra Hembram, shouted from the dock that he wanted to confess something.

He was brought to the witness box where he claimed that he alone was responsible for the killing of the missionary, as he had set the station wagon on fire. All other accused in the case were innocent, he claimed.

But another accused, Dayanidhi Patra, on April 5, 2002, volunteered to say he was in the group that attacked Staines. He claimed Dara Singh had set fire to the vehicle in his presence.

Towards the end, a woman defence witness, Hemalata Karua, claimed the missionary had attempted to molest her in a hut a day before his death.

The charge was strongly denied by Gladys, who asserted that her husband's moral character was not to be questioned.

The defence had argued that the fire that engulfed the vehicle could have been caused by a short circuit, as the battery had been defective. It also tried to put forward the contention that Dara Singh was not present at Manoharpur during the incident.

Senior high court lawyer Santosh Kumar Mund and CBI counsel K Sudhakar conducted the case for the investigating agency while a panel of lawyers comprising high court advocate Brahmananda Panda, Shyamananda Mohapatra, Bana Mohanty, Gyana Acharya and Rabi Patnaik represented the accused.

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