Bhubaneswar, Sep 30 (IANS) A court in Odisha Monday held seven people guilty of the murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and four of his aides in Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008, a lawyer said Monday.
Special Additional District Session Judge R.K. Tose pronounced the verdict in his court at Phulbani, the headquarters of Kandhamal district, about 200 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, prosecution lawyer Bhagaban Mohanty told IANS.
The quantum of sentence would be pronounced Oct 3, he said.
Those convicted were Duryodhan Suna Majhi, Munda Bada Majhi, Sanatan Bada Majhi, Garnatha Chalanseth, Bijay Kumar Samseth, Bhaskar Suna Majhi and Budhadev Nayak.
The convicts were part of a mob of about 50 people who had attacked the swami and his aides, the lawyer said.
All of the convicts are Christians and they had committed the crime because according to them the swami was forcing Christians to convert to Hinduism, the lawyer said.
Two of the men were convicted under the Indian Arms Act, 1959, for possession of illegal guns, the lawyer said. "The judge convicted them purely on the basis of circumstantial evidence and the deposition of witnesses," said lawyer Mohanty.
Saraswati and four of his aides were killed at his ashram at Jaleshpata in Kandhamal district Aug 23, 2008. The killing triggered communal violence in the state, in which at least 38 people were killed.
More than 25,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes after their houses were attacked by rampaging mobs, who held Christians responsible for the murders. Police, however, blamed the murders on the Maoists.
Police arrested seven people and filed a charge sheet against them in January 2009.
The crime branch subsequently arrested two more people, including Maoist leader Polari Rama Rao. It also filed a supplementary charge sheet in 2011 against them and five others, including Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, who are still absconding.
The court is scheduled to pronounce its judgment on the second charge sheet Tuesday.
The BJP welcomed the decision.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashok Sahu said: "We welcome the court's verdict. The investigation should continue till all the conspirators are nabbed."
"A criminal has to be punished whichever religion he belongs to. The moment he commits a crime he loses his religion," Orissa Minority Forum president Swarupananda Patra told IANS.