Hanging of Veerappan men stayed
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The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of four aides of slain sandalwood smuggler Veerappan until it pronounces some "relevant" orders in the matter.
Sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in 2004 for killing 22 policemen in a landmine attack, the convicts' last hope was extinguished after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy pleas last week. They subsequently moved the apex court to get the death penalty commuted to a life sentence, arguing that there had been "inordinate delay" in deciding their mercy petitions.
The bench led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir was initially of the view that the petition was "not maintainable" in its present form since there was no valid authorisation from the convicts to the Delhi-based lawyer who had moved the court on their behalf.
However, the bench eventually decided to hear the matter on Wednesday, and granted the lawyer an opportunity to remove the petition's defects.
"Liberty is given to the petitioner to amend the petition suitably. In the meantime, the execution of the death sentence... shall remain stayed. The superintendent of the Central Jail at Belgaum (where they are lodged) be informed accordingly," it said.
The bench also agreed to delve into the "principle" of the right, if any, of a convict to have a death sentence commuted on account of the time spent on death row.
"Question of correctness of death sentence cannot be re-opened and it has to be presumed that the case fell under the rarest of rare category but we are on the principle as to what should happen when the execution has been delayed," observed the court, while seeking the assistance of Attorney General G E Vahanvati.
Vahanvati opposed the prayer for staying or suspending the execution, saying "the crime... is a very serious crime against the state", and the petition was not maintainable for want of proper authorisation.