The activist led a mob that burned alive an Australian missionary and his two sons A judge in India yesterday sentenced to death Dara Singh for his role as ringleader of a Hindu mob that burned to death Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons. Justice Mahendra Nath Patnaik also handed life sentences to 12 other Hindu extremists for the killings that took place in the Manoharpur village in the eastern state of Orissa on January 23, 1999. Singh belongs to the Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu outfit closely allied with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party. Sentencing him to death by hanging in the heavily guarded courtroom yesterday, Justice Patnaik said Singh deserved capital punishment for instigating his followers to set fire to the station wagon in which Staines and his two young sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6, were sleeping. They tried to escape, but were stopped by the mob, who were shouting anti-Christian slogans and armed with axes and daggers. 'The death sentence is reserved for the rarest of rare cases. The cold-blooded Staines killings fall in that category,' the judge said yesterday. The priest's widow, Gladys Staines, refused to comment on the sentence. She said she had already forgiven the killers. Describing the verdict as 'unjustified', defence lawyer Gyan Acharya said he would file an appeal in the high court. 'All the defendants are poor tribals and the sole breadwinners of their families,' Mr Acharya said. The Central Bureau of Investigation - India's FBI - had demanded the death penalty for all accused, but Justice Patnaik said in his judgment that there was not enough evidence to send all of them to the gallows. Hundreds of policemen were deployed around the Bhubaneswar court and churches near where the killings took place. Police chief Yogesh Bahadur Khurania described the situation there after the verdict as 'tense' but under control. Singh has a big following in the underdeveloped region and his followers have threatened reprisals over the guilty verdict against the local Christian community. The killing of Staines, who had been working among lepers for almost 30 years, was part of a series of attacks on Christian missionaries and institutions by Hindu hardliners fighting conversions. They accuse the missionaries of tricking the rural poor into conversion with promises of money and other benefits - a charge denied by Christian groups. One of the convicted killers was quoted on Sunday as saying that the 'corruption of tribal culture' by the missionaries provoked the attack. They claim the Christians fed the villagers beef, which is prohibited by Hinduism. Christians make up just 2.5 per cent of India's more than one billion, largely Hindu, population. The trial, seen as a test of India's secular constitution, was delayed as Singh eluded the police for a year after the killing. While Singh was on the run, he allegedly organised the killing in broad daylight of a Muslim trader, Abdul Rehman, and a Catholic priest, Arul Das. During the 29-month trial, the court questioned 80 witnesses, 55 of them produced by the prosecution.