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Australian's murder case in India lingers on 15 years later

Missionary's wife appears as witness against two suspects

Australian's murder case in India lingers on 15 years later

Published: January 28, 2014 08:05 AM GMT

Updated: January 27, 2014 08:55 PM GMT

The case of an Australian Christian missionary and his two sons murdered 15 years ago drags on in an eastern Indian court, with one of the accused still evading arrest.

Last Friday Gladys Staines, widow of missionary Graham Stuart Staines and mother of his two children, appeared before the Khurda District Court in Orissa in the trial of two more suspects, arrested last year for the 1999 murder.

“The very fact that the case has dragged for such a long time and there is at least one more person yet to be arrested speaks of the failure of the criminal justice system,” said Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a human rights activist in Orissa.

Staines and his two sons were killed on January 22, 1999 when a Hindu mob set fire to the vehicle in which they were sleeping in Manoharpur, in Keonjhar district.

Along with Staines' widow, two other investigating officials also appeared as prosecuting witneses. Staines reportedly identified certain belongings of her husband during the hearing but failed to identify the attackers.

Father Singh said "it is the responsibility of the state" to establish the guilt of the accused." He noted that Gladys Staines was at home, and not at the scene of the crime and may not be able to identify the accused.

"Both the federal and state government should send the message that the law reigns. Otherwise, it would increase impunity and embolden the fascist forces to strike at will," the priest said.

In the Staines' case, police arrested two men, Ranjan Mahanta and Ghanashyam Mahanta, last May, accusing them of being part of the mob that attacked the missionary. Their trial began in September. A third accused, Budhia Nayak, is still on the run.

The same court in 2003 convicted and sentenced the main suspect Dara Singh to death and 12 others to life imprisonment.

The Orissa High Court later commuted Singh’s death sentence to life imprisonment. The High Court also awarded a life term to an accomplice Mahendra Hembrum but acquitted the other 11. The Supreme Court upheld the state court's verdict in 2011.

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