New Delhi, Jan 21 (Agencies): The Supreme Court on Friday awarded life sentence to Dara Singh, convicted for burning Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons alive in January 1999, dismissing CBI’s plea for death penalty and upholding the Orissa High Court decision in this case.

A bench comprising justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan, while dismissing the agency's plea for death penalty, said the punishment can be imposed only in the "rarest of rare" cases depending upon the facts and situation of each case.

In the present case, the Apex Court said, the offence committed by the convicts, though highly condemnable, does not fall in the category of rarest of rare to warrant death sentence.

After the SC verdict, Graham Staines close friend said that Dara Singh should repent for whatever he has done.

“The SC has given its verdict and we are happy that justice has been given in any form. Life is very precious. If a person has done something wrong and the law has acknowledged it. It is for the court to decide what punishment should be given to the accused.

The court has decided to give life imprisonment and we are happy that justice has been given," added Staines friend.

Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembrom were found guilty of burning to death Staines and his sons, who were sleeping inside a van outside a church, at Manoharpur village in Koenjhar district of Orissa on January 22, 1999. The bench had on December 15 last year reserved its judgement after hearing at length the arguments of CBI's counsel and Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha and counsel for the convicts.

Senior counsel K T S Tulsi and Ratnakar Dash, besides counsel Sibo Shankara Mishra, appeared for the 12 convicts. Appearing for CBI, Tankha had told the bench that Dara Singh deserves death sentence as the murders were committed in a most "diabolic and dastardly manner" which warranted exemplary punishment.

Dara had filed an appeal challenging his conviction and the life sentence awarded to him. The appeals were admitted by the apex court in October 2005. On May 19, 2005, the Orissa High Court had commuted to life imprisonment the death penalty imposed by the sessions court on Dara Singh for the murder of Staines and his two minor sons -- Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6. Along with Dara, another person Mahendra Hembram was convicted in the case.

However, the High Court had acquitted 11 others who were awarded life terms by the trial court in the case. The trial court in Khurda had in September 2003 convicted all the 13 accused. While Dara Singh was awarded death sentence, others were given life imprisonment.