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'Nineteen years is a long time' A disabled piano teacher, 78, travelled from Bombay to Vancouver to look the Air-India defendants in the eye, ROBERT MATAS writes

A disabled piano teacher, 78, travelled from Bombay to Vancouver to look the Air-India defendants in the eye, ROBERT MATAS writes

VANCOUVER

India defendants Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri walked casually into the courtroom yesterday, looking as they do every day through the transparent bulletproof wall for familiar faces in the public gallery.

Evelyn Acharya, 78, caught their attention for no more than a blink of the eye. That was enough for her.

Ms. Acharya came from Bombay to see the men accused of killing her daughter Joyshree, her son-in-law Surinder and her 16-month-old grandson Ratik, who had come to Canada on a holiday.

A piano teacher with debilitating arthritis that confines her to a wheelchair, she resisted the Canadian government offer to come to the courtroom for almost a year.

But with the trial drawing to an end likely next month, she felt compelled to see those who may have been responsible for ending the lives of her family members. Finally, she was ready this month to take the 24-hour, 12,250 kilometre trip to Canada.

However, when she finally saw the defendants, she was more perplexed than angry.

She pitied the defendants for their small minds, she told reporters later outside the courthouse for British Columbia Supreme Court.

"I'd like to ask them one question," Ms. Acharya said. "Why did they do it?

"Why did they punish so many innocent ladies and children for some crime someone else has done?" she said, referring to the allegations that the defendants put bombs on aircraft to retaliate against the Indian government for attacks against Sikhs in India.

Inside the courtroom, she listened intently to defence lawyer Richard Peck pick apart the testimony of a central prosecution witness in the case against Mr. Bagri.

Mr. Bagri and Mr. Malik are accused of murder in the death of 331 people killed in two bomb explosions on June 23, 1985. The prosecution says the bombs were placed on flights in Vancouver that connected to Air-India flights.

A court order prohibits the media from identifying the witness against Mr. Bagri. A former informer for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the witness had testified Mr. Bagri told him that he was involved in carrying out the Air-India bombings.

Mr. Peck described the witness as a person "of the worst possible character . . . lacking a conscience."

The witness had repeatedly lied over the past 20 years on sworn affidavits and under oath in court, Mr. Peck said. "The simple act of lying is of no consequence to him," he said. "This is a man who has no compunction of lying under oath and has done so as recently as January, 2004."

After reviewing several incidents in which the witness was caught in a lie, Mr. Peck said the court would need "massive corroboration" of the witness's statements if they were going to be accepted as evidence against Mr. Bagri.

"You cannot rely on him to convict [Mr.] Bagri on proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Mr. Peck said.

Mr. Peck also reviewed the prolonged RCMP negotiations with the witness over the amount of money he was to receive after testifying.

The witness asked for $500,000 (U.S.) The RCMP agreed to pay him only $300,000 (U.S.). The RCMP told him that they would provide funds to help him pay for his own security after testifying. They were not buying testimony.

However after receiving the payment, the witness continued to live openly in the city where he now lives, Mr. Peck said. The witness also went on several trips to India, visiting his family who lived in the same village as the family of Mr. Bagri, Mr. Peck added.

It's nonsense to say the payments were about his security, Mr. Peck said. "There never was a threat to this man," he said.

Mr. Peck also recounted efforts by the witness to obtain an additional $200,000 (U.S.). after the RCMP had paid him $300,000. Mr. Peck said the informant's evidence was tainted by his "gluttonous and venal request for money."

Mr. Peck's comments had little impact on Ms. Acharya's feelings about the case. She thought the prosecution was doing well, but she was not overly concerned about the outcome of the trial, she said.

She had seen the defendants and was ready now to get on with the rest of her life.

"Nineteen years is a long time. Memory fades, we got to get on with our lives. That's how I feel now."

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