New Delhi: In a setback to CBI, the Supreme
Court on Friday dismissed its plea for death penalty to Dara
Singh, convicted for burning alive Australian missionary
Graham Staines and his two minor sons in January 1999 while
upholding life sentence given to him by the Orissa High Court.
A bench comprising justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan,
while dismissing the agency`s plea for death penalty, said the
punishment can be imposed only in the "rarest of rare" cases
depending upon the facts and situation of each case.
In the present case, the apex court said, the offence
committed by the convicts, though highly condemnable, does not
fall in the category of rarest of rare to warrant death
Concurring with the Orissa HC finding, the SC said that Dara Singh and his accomplice wanted to teach Staines a lesson for his religious activities, including conversions to Christianity.
The Supreme Court said, "We hope Mahatma Gandhi`s vision of religion playing a positive development integrating into a prosperous nation will be realized. There is no justification from interfering in someone`s belief through force, conversion or false premise that one religion is better than the other."
Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembrom were found guilty of
burning to death Staines and his sons, who were sleeping
inside a van outside a church, at Manoharpur village in
Koenjhar district of Orissa on January 22, 1999.
The bench had on December 15 last year reserved its
judgement after hearing at length the arguments of CBI`s
counsel and Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha and
counsel for the convicts.
Senior counsel KTS Tulsi and Ratnakar Dash, besides
counsel Sibo Shankara Mishra, appeared for the 12 convicts.
Appearing for CBI, Tankha had told the bench that Dara
Singh deserves death sentence as the murders were committed in
a most "diabolic and dastardly manner" which warranted
Dara had filed an appeal challenging his conviction
and the life sentence awarded to him. The appeals were
admitted by the apex court in October 2005.
On May 19, 2005, the Orissa High Court had commuted to
life imprisonment the death penalty imposed by the sessions
court on Dara Singh for the murder of Staines and his two
minor sons -- Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6. Along with Dara,
another person Mahendra Hembram was convicted in the case.
However, the High Court had acquitted 11 others who
were awarded life terms by the trial court in the case.
The trial court in Khurda had in September 2003
convicted all the 13 accused. While Dara Singh was awarded
death sentence, others were given life imprisonment.