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Marathon Air-India trial in hands of judge Highly regarded for his integrity, B.C. Supreme Court justice gave few clues how he will rule in the case of two men accused of killing 331 people, ROBERT MATAS writes

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His reputation is as a "convicting judge," several lawyers said. "If he can follow a thread that comes to a conviction, and be assured it will withstand the scrutiny of the appeal court, he will convict," said a lawyer who, like others interviewed for this article, did not want his name published.

But he is also highly regarded for his integrity. "If there is a reasonable doubt, no matter how difficult it may be, he has the intellectual fibre to bring in a not-guilty verdict," lawyer Leigh Harrison said.

Judge Josephson has issued rulings during the pretrial and trial proceedings in the Air-India case that provide a glimpse into his thinking. They are far from offering a solid basis for placing bets on the outcome of the trial.

Some rulings kept out evidence that prosecutors felt would have helped their case. Others opened the way for evidence the defence believed was inadmissible.

On three occasions, he ruled that actions by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Crown prosecutors had violated Mr. Bagri's right to a fair trial under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He has also issued rulings that could give comfort to the prosecution. He accepted as evidence an unedited version of a hate-filled speech by Mr. Bagri. The speech supports the inference that Mr. Bagri had a strongly held motive "to take part in a conspiracy to place bombs on the national airline of India," Judge Josephson said in June, 2002.

Earlier this year, in what has been described as a turning point in the trial, Judge Josephson decided a witness was feigning memory loss about statements she had made to authorities that incriminated Mr. Bagri. He accepted an account of her statements from CSIS, although the witness said she did not remember making them.

The judge did not reveal whether he believed the witness's incriminating statements were true. "Their ultimate reliability will be determined at the end of the trial," he said.

How will he finally decide on guilt or innocence? The law does not set out rules on how a judge is ultimately to decide a case. Among the factors he may consider are the demeanour of a witness, prior statements inconsistent with testimony, whether a witness appears to have an axe to grind and whether reliable corroborating evidence is available.

Inevitably, it may also depend on the judge's gut feelings. "Above all, it comes down to a judge with common sense, who is not swayed by any extraneous matters," Judge Oppal said.

Chronology of case

June 23, 1985 -- A bomb explosion in Tokyo's Narita airport kills two people; 54 minutes later, a mid-air bomb explosion aboard Air-India Flight 182 kills 329 people.

Nov. 6, 1985 -- The RCMP raid homes of seven suspects; police are ready to lay charges, but Crown prosecutors decide the likelihood of conviction is slim.

Feb. 8, 1988 -- British Columbia auto mechanic Inderjit Singh Reyat is arrested in England and charged with helping to make the bomb that exploded in Japan.

May 10, 1991 -- Mr. Reyat, convicted of manslaughter, is sentenced to 10 years; RCMP wind down the Air-India investigation.

Oct. 15, 1992 -- Alleged Air-India mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar is killed by police in India. He was not charged in the case.

June 1, 1995 -- The RCMP restart the investigation.

Oct. 15, 1997 -- A woman who will become a key witness in the case against Ripudaman Singh Malik begins talks with authorities about allegations that Mr. Malik was involved in immigration fraud, mismanagement of a Sikh parochial school and misuse of government grants. Six months later, the witness tells authorities Mr. Malik admitted to her that he was involved in the Air-India disaster.

October, 2000 -- A man living in the United States who will become a key witness against Ajaib Singh Bagri agrees to appear at trial in Canada after he is offered $300,000 (U.S.) to testify about five conversations in which he says Mr. Bagri incriminated himself.

Oct. 28, 2000 -- Mr. Malik and Mr. Bagri are arrested for murder in the deaths of 331 people killed by bomb explosions in Japan and aboard the Air-India flight.

June 5, 2001 -- Mr. Reyat is charged in bomb the explosion on the Air-India flight.

Nov. 15, 2002 -- Air-India suspect Hardial Singh Johal, 55, dies of natural causes. He allegedly stored the suitcases with bombs in the basement of a Vancouver school. He was not charged in the case.

Feb. 10, 2003 -- Mr. Reyat pleads guilty to manslaughter for the deaths aboard the Air-India flight and is sentenced to five years in prison.

April 28, 2003 -- The trial begins.

Dec. 3, 2004 -- The judge withdraws to consider the verdict.

March 16, 2005 -- Judge to deliver verdict.

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