Staines murder case: SC seeks Odisha's reply on remission plea of a 'repentant' Dara Singh

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought the Odisha government's response on a plea for premature release of a "repenting" Ravindra Pal alias Dara Singh, who is serving life sentence for the ghastly killing of Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two minor sons in the state's Keonjhar district in 1999.

A bench of Justices Hrishikesh Roy and SVN Bhatti issued notice to the Odisha government and sought its response within six weeks.

In his plea filed through advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, Dara Singh said, "The petitioner, having spent over 24 years being incarcerated in the prison, has well understood and is repenting the consequences of his action taken in the fit of his youthful rage and at present seeks the mercy of this court so that he can give back to the society through his service-oriented actions." He sought a direction to the state government to consider his case for premature release in accordance with the guidelines for premature release of life convicts issued in 2022 in the three cases in which he was convicted.

"The petitioner herein who happens to be about 61 years of age has already undergone more than the qualified period i.e. 14 years of sentence as stipulated in policy dated April 19, 2022 whereas the petitioner has served more than 24 years of actual imprisonment (without remission).

"It is noteworthy that the petitioner has never been released on parole and even when his mother passed away, he could not perform her last rites as he was not allowed to be released on parole," he submitted.

Singh said the appropriate authorities are under legal obligation to consider his case for premature release under the 'Guideline for Premature Release 2022' passed by the Odisha government. He claimed they have failed to act in accordance with the related rules due to which his right to liberty, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, was jeopardised.

"The petitioner acknowledges and deeply regrets the transgressions perpetrated more than two decades ago. In the fervour of youth, fueled by impassioned reactions to the brutal history of India, the petitioner's psyche momentarily lost restraint.

"It is imperative for the court to scrutinise not merely the actions but the underlying intent, noting that there was no personal animosity harboured towards any victim," he said. Singh said he believes in the Karmic philosophy, and in order to cure the effects of bad Karma that he has gained through his actions, is praying before this court for an opportunity towards reformation of his character.

A mob led by Singh attacked Staines and his two sons - 11-year-old Philip and 8-year-old Timothy - while they slept in their station wagon and then set the vehicle on fire in Manoharpur village of Keonjhar district on the intervening night of January 22-23, 1999.

Dara Singh, the main accused in the triple murder, was convicted and sentenced to death by a CBI court in 2003.

The Orissa High Court commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment in 2005 and it was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011.

Mehendra Hembram, an accomplice of Dara Singh, is also serving life imprisonment in the case, while 11 other accused were acquitted by the high court due to lack of evidence.

Staines and his wife Gladys worked with Mayurbhanj Evangelical Missionary organisation and cared for leprosy patients.

Gladys Staines, who was awarded the Padmashree in 2005, had said she had forgiven the killers of her husband and sons and that she holds no bitterness against them.

In his petition, Singh referred to the 2022 decision in former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination case in which convict AG Perarivalan, serving life sentence, was ordered to be released by the apex court.

Referring to the theory of reformative justice propounded by noted jurist and former apex court judge VR Krishna Iyer that "every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”, Singh said the basic principle of the reformative theory emphasises on the renewal of the convict and the beginning of a new life for him.

"The petitioner is reaching the twilight of his lifetime but remains incarcerated, without any hope of him being released prematurely by the state government and thus, his right under Article 21 of the Constitution is being infringed," he said.

Singh alleged he is being discriminated against in the matter of consideration of premature release as similarly situated persons who have been incarcerated for the same or lesser period have been released prematurely.

"In view of the above facts and law, the petitioner in the instant writ petition prays inter alia that his case having been qualified and having become entitled under policy dated April 19, 2022 necessary directions be issued to the respondent authorities to consider the case of the petitioner and consequential orders be passed directing the release of the petitioner forthwith," his plea said.

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