Court delays hearing for death row convicts

February 17, 2013 - 4:42:55 am

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court said yesterday it would hear “in due course” an execution appeal filed by four bandits convicted over a blast that killed 22 policemen a decade ago, a lawyer for the men said.

The court refused to take up the appeal yesterday because it said it was not convinced that the execution of the men was imminent, Colin Gonsalves, senior advocate for the four men, said.

Earlier there had been reports the four accomplices of slain sandalwood smuggler Veerappan would be executed today after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy plea.

“I hope their hanging does not not take place tomorrow (Sunday) and that we are proved wrong, but we had information they would be hanged tomorrow and that is why we approached the Supreme Court,” Gonsalves said.

The Supreme Court said the appeal would be heard in “due course”, with court officials saying that the hearing could take place in the coming week.

Prison officials at the jail in the southern state of Karnataka, where the four convicts are being held, said no preparations were under way for their hanging.

Local media reports said that jail authorities would need at least a day to prepare for the executions.

“No preparations are going on for the execution of the four convicts tomorrow (Sunday). We are awaiting instructions from higher authorities,” said a senior official at Belgaum jail, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The convicts’ lawyer said: “We are asking for their sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment because of the mental distress suffered by them while waiting eight years for a decision on their mercy plea.”

The four men were sentenced to death in 2004 for their role in a landmine explosion in Karnataka that killed 22 policemen and injured 11 others.

Veerappan, the leader of the gang who was accused of abductions and more than 100 murders, was shot dead in a police ambush in the jungle the same year after evading capture for decades.

Executions are only carried out for “the rarest of rare” cases.

But recently elected president Mukherjee has rejected a number of mercy pleas in the last few months, ending an eight-year informal stay on executions.

Last weekend, Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted of involvement in a deadly 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, was executed in New Delhi, triggering angry protests in the disputed region of Indian-administered Kashmir.

The lone surviving gunman from the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistani-born Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was hanged last November, in the first execution in the country since 2004.