Eight persons, including a Maoist leader, were sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment on Thursday by a court in Kandhamal district for the murder of senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others in 2008 that triggered communal violence leaving 37 dead.
Additional District Judge Rajendra Kumar Tosh, who had earlier convicted the eight persons, also imposed Rs 10,000 fine on each of them while pronouncing the quantum of punishment amid tight security in the communally sensitive district.
In case of inability to pay the penalty, the convicts would have to undergo an additional jail term of 18 months, Public Prosecutor Anil Kumar Pradhan said.
Of the eight convicts, Pulari Rama Rao alias Uday, a Maoist leader from Andhra Pradesh, had been held guilty by the court on October 1 for the murder of Saraswati and four of his disciples, during the Janmastami festival on August 23, 2008, at an ashram in Kandhamal district. The court had acquitted Somanath Dandasena for want of evidence the same day.
On September 30, the court had convicted seven persons -- Gadanath Chalanseth, Bijaya Kumar Shyamseth, Buddha Nayak, Sanatan Badamajhi, Duryadhan Sunamajhi, Bhaskar Sunamajhi and Munda Badamajhi.
The verdict came after the court examined 32 witnesses and other evidences, Pradhan said, adding the prosecution had sought death sentence.
Besides murder and criminal conspiracy, they were convicted for offences including rioting with deadly weapons and unlawful assembly. They were also held guilty under several provisions of the Arms Act.
Of the 14 persons chargesheeted in the case, nine were arrested while five are still at large. They are Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, Dasana, Lalu, Lakhu and Azad alias Tuna.
The gunning down of Saraswati and his disciples had triggered communal violence leaving 37 dead and a large number of houses and places of worship damaged in Kandhamal. The four others killed in the attack were Mata Bhaktimayee, Krutananda Baba, Kishore Baba and Puranjana Guntha.
In order to prevent any untoward incident during court verdict, elaborate security arrangements had been made across the district amid deployment of around 1,200 security personnel and thorough checking at sensitive and vulnerable locations.