Staines Killers found Guilty

Monday, September 15, 2003

Orissa Court Delivers Guilty Verdict Against Dara Singh, 12 Co-Defendants
by Abhijeet Prabhu

BANGALORE, India, September 15 (Compass) -- More than four years after the tragic murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, prime suspect Dara Singh and 12 others were convicted of the killings today by the district and sessions judge of Orissa state, India.

Delivering the judgment to a packed court room, Justice M.N. Patnaik convicted Dara Singh, alias “Ravindra Kumar Pal,” and 12 other defendants on counts of conspiracy, unlawful assembly, burning of a vehicle and house, and murder. The court will announce sentences on September 22.

One of the accused, Aniruddha Dandapat, was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

The triple murder of Staines and his sons Philip, 11, and Timothy, 7, sent shock waves around the world and demonstrated that Christians are persecuted in India. However, the case has been characterized by political interference, judicial delay, evidence tampering and the intimidation of witnesses.

Expecting communal violence against Christians and church institutions, authorities tightened security measures in and around the state capital of Bhubaneswar. Intelligence reports indicated that large groups of “Dara fans” drawn from various parts of the state left for Bhubaneswar on Sunday to hear the court verdict. Dara’s supporters reportedly planned to hold a protest rally in the capital.

A Home Department official said police were providing security cover for the Australian missionary’s widow, Gladys Staines, who resides at Baripada.

Graham Staines worked among lepers in Orissa from 1965 until his murder on the night of January 22, 1999.

He and his two young sons were burned to death by assailants, led by Dara Singh, who attacked the Staines late at night while they slept in the family station wagon parked outside a church at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district. The group set fire to the vehicle and prevented the Staines from escaping the flames.

Dara lived in hiding for over a year after the incident. During that time, he allegedly committed two more murders: one of a Muslim trader named Rehman in Thakurmunda, and the other of Father Arul Doss, a Christian missionary from Balasore.

Because he had attained near-hero status as leader of a Hindu cult, police suspect locals helped him avoid their dragnet for a year. Many militant Hindus that sympathized with Singh’s campaign against Muslims proclaimed his innocence. Some even defended his “legitimate” right to kill the missionary.

Eventually, police arrested 55 people in connection with the murder. Singh himself was arrested in a forest in the Keonjhar district on January 31, 2000. However, due to poor investigations, most of the suspects were released. The investigation was then transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which took nearly five months to frame charge sheets against Dara Singh and 17 others.

The trial produced several bizarre twists as witnesses rapidly turned hostile. In one case, a witness even accused the missionary of molesting a tribal woman. The breakthrough came when defendant Daya Patra admitted before the court that he had witnessed Dara Singh set the Staines’ vehicle on fire.

According to defense lawyer Banabihari Mohanty, Singh plans to appeal the verdict.

Mark Webslor, a diplomat with the Australian High Commission, was present in the court and expressed satisfaction over the judgment. “The Australian government had taken keen interest in the case and I have come here on behalf of the High Commission,” he said.

People of all faiths, including Hindus, responded with touching messages of sympathy, praising the spirit of Gladys Staines and her testimony to the gospel. “I have forgiven Dara,” she said. “I have said that earlier and it has not changed. I forgive him.”

Mrs. Staines now directs her energies to the welfare of leprosy patients her husband cared for.

“I was not very involved earlier. But after he was killed, I took up his mantle. As a result, the people and the place have become very dear to me,” she said.

Graham Staines’ brother said he hopes the 13 people convicted of the murders will be spared the death penalty. “There are other people who could get hurt,” John Staines told the Australian Associated Press.

“The thing is, we have forgiven them in Christ’s name,” he added. “I think that these men have to face up to what they’ve done. By the same token, I don’t want to see them put to death over it. Anything that man does in these things doesn’t really count for very much, because God is the final judge.”

Finally, in a church near the Staines’ home in Baripada, prayers have been said, not only for the Staines family, but also for the man who ended the lives of Graham, Timothy and Philip.