How long can Rajiv killers be kept waiting for noose, asks SC

The Supreme Court on Thursday said the three persons convicted for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi deserved the death sentence passed on them, but at the same time did not dismiss their plea for commutation to a life sentence on the ground of inordinate delay in carrying it out.

A bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh refused to go into the merit of the conviction while hearing their plea on commuting death penalty to life due to delay by the authorities on deciding their mercy plea.

The bench restrained the counsel appearing for the death row convict to argue on the merit of the conviction. "They deserve the death sentence but the question is how long can they be kept in solitary confinement," the bench said.

The counsel appearing for the convicts including senior advocate Ram Jethmalani wrapped up their arguments within 45 minutes during which they submitted that there has been unreasonable delay in deciding the mercy plea of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan.

They submitted that mercy plea of other condemned prisoners, which were filed after them, were decided but the petitions of these three were kept pending by the government.

The Centre, which is opposing the plea of the condemned prisoners, will put forward its argument on 4 February.

The apex court had in May 2012 decided to adjudicate itself the pleas of Rajiv Gandhi killers against their death penalty and had directed that their petitions, pending with the Madras High Court, be sent to it.

The court had passed the order on a petition by one L K Venkat seeking transfer of their pleas out of Tamil Nadu on the ground that free and fair hearing would not possible in the state due to the surcharged atmosphere, favouring the death row convicts.

On a petition by the three death row convicts, the Madras High Court had earlier stayed their hanging and issued notices to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government.

Their main contention was that delay in disposal of the mercy petitions by 11 years and four months made the execution of the death sentence "unduly harsh and excessive", amounting to violation of their right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

On the trio's plea, the high court had stayed their execution slated for 9 September 2011.