IF the crime was brutal, retribution was equally swift and harsh. Just a year and nine months into the killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his minor sons at Manoharpur, a juvenile court has handed a life-sentence to a 13-year-old in the case.
The court order against Sudarshan Hansda, alias Chenchu, of Keonjhar is the first of its kind in recent times. No juvenile had ever been sentenced to 14 years' detention for any crime since the Juvenile Justice Act came into force in 1986. More generally, if the order is any indication, the CBI has a watertight case and Dara Singh's lawyers have a tough task ahead. In all, 18 persons have been chargesheeted, of whom four are still absconding.
According to lawyers in Bhubaneshwar, the signals are clear-this is one case where the courts are going to be tough. But the issue is not so simple. The sentence has unleashed a debate, which is likely to have much wider implications, not only for 13 of the accused whose trial comes up in December, but also the penalty which can be imposed on a juvenile under existing law.
Chenchu was found guilty and charged under sections 147, 148, 149, 120 B and 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and is to be sent to the juvenile home at Angul. The 14-year sentence, equivalent to a life imprisonment, was delivered on September 30 by a bench of the juvenile court comprising additional chief judicial magistrate (ACJM) Sukumar Sahu and sub-divisional judicial magistrate Gajendra Mohapatra under sections 21 and 22 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986.
The 13-year-old has been held guilty for unlawful assembly, arson, rioting, murder and conspiracy to kill. The CBI produced 13 witnesses who identified Chenchu as part of the crowd that attacked Staines and his sons. They also testified that he was part of the group that torched the jeep in which the missionary and his sons were...