Eight convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Phulbani additional district and session’s court in Kandhamal on Thursday for the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati.

The Additional District Judge (ADJ) Rajendra Kumar Tosh, pronounced the judgements.

The accused included the seven who had been convicted by the same court on Sept 30. On Oct 1, a Maoist from Andhra Pradesh had been convicted by the Phulbani additional district and session’s court, while one accused in the case had been acquitted due to lack of evidence.

The seven persons sentenced to life imprisonment were Duryodhan Sanamajhi, Munda Badamajhi, Sanatan Badmajhi, .Garnath Chalanseth, Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Bhaskar Sunamajhi and Buddhadev Nayak. The convicted Maoist was Paluri Rama Rao alias Uday.

Speaking to The Hindu, the lawyer for prosecution, Anil Kumar Pradhan said the court had come to the conclusion that there was ample evidence against these convicts after examining forensic reports and cross-examining 52 witnesses. But the lawyer for defence, S.K.Padhi said there was not ample evidence against the convicts and hence they would go for an appeal.

As per the charge sheet, a total of 14 persons were involved in the murder of the VHP leader and his four associates at his Jalaspata ashram in Kandhamal district on the night of Aug. 23, 2008. The court has till date pronounced judgment regarding nine accused in the case. Another Maoist accused in the case, Azad alias D. Keshava Rao is now lodged in Nayagarh jail. Police are still searching for four other accused, including Sabyasachi Panda, the Odisha Maoist leader who has been expelled from the CPI (Maoist) organization in 2012.

The murder of the VHP leader and his associates led violent communal clashes in the district. At least 38 persons were killed and hundreds rendered homeless. Given the senstive nature of the verdict, security was tight in all communally senstive areas of Kandhamal, DIG of police, Amitabh Thakur said. Peace meetings with leaders of different communities had also been initiated in parts of Kandhamal district for maintenance of law and order.