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New Delhi, Mar 20: The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the CBI on a petition filed by Mahendra Hembrom challenging Orissa High Court verdict sentencing him to life imprisonment in the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons.

Hembrom along with the main accused Ravinder Kumar Pal alias Dara Singh, was found guilty of burning to death Staines and his minor sons, Philip and Timothy, outside a church in Manoharpur in Orissa on January 22, 1999.

A Bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhan sought a reply from CBI on Hembrom's appeal, filed through his advocate Sibo Shankar Mishra, contending that his conviction by the trial court was merely upheld by the High Court on the basis of the presumption of his presence at the site of the incident.

Mishra contended that the High Court and trial court had erroneously considered Hembrom's confessional statement about his involvement in the crime.

The confessional statement before the trial court, in which he had said that he killed Graham Staines, hence, others should be set free, should be taken in toto and not as per the convenience of the CBI, he submitted.

The main accused Dara Singh has already challenged his conviction and sentence, while the CBI has filed an appeal against the acquittal of 12 other accused.

Khurda session court, in September 2003, had convicted all the 14 accused persons. While Dara Singh and Hembrom were sentenced to death, others were awarded life imprisonment.

On appeal in the High Court, the death sentences of the duo were commuted into life imprisonment while the rest were acquitted.

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