One of Fourteen Defendants Confesses to Killing Australian Missionary

Mar 26, 2003 03:15 PM EST

Bhubaneshwar, India-- A defendant in the 1999 murder of an Australian missionary and his two sons in eastern India pleaded guilty, March 25, 2003. Mahendra Hembram, 23, one of fourteen men charged of the crime, said he was responsible during a court hearing.

Along with confessing to the crime, Hembram, a security guard for the private company where the attack occurred, told the Judge Mahendra Nath Patnaik that the other defendants were innocent, including the man accused of leading the attack, Dara Singh.

Singh, who was arrested more than a year after the attack, also denied fleeing the area after the murders. Several witnesses have testified that they saw him leading the mob of villagers

"Neither did I lead the mob, nor did I burn the vehicle," Singh told the judge, saying he also did not conspire with anyone in the killings.

Graham Staines, 58, and his two sons were burned alive as they slept in their jeep after a Bible study meeting in Manoharpur, a village in the tribal Keonjhar region, 230 kms north of the state capital, Bhubaneshwar. The killing was part of a series of attacks against missionaries and Christian institutions; the violence has been attributed to Hindu nationalists in the states.

The other defendants are scheduled to record their statements in the trial court tomorrow.

By Pauline J.