The Supreme Court has referred the case of remission of life imprisonment of Rajiv Gandhi’s seven assassins and their accomplices to a larger constitutional bench. The assassins V Sriharan alias Murugan, AG Perarivalan and T Suthendraraja alias Santhan will stay lodged in jail till then. Their death sentences had been commuted to life imprisonment by the apex court on the ground of 11 years delay in deciding their mercy pleas by the Centre.
At around 10:40 am, a bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam issued the statement that the petition filed by the Centre, challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to remit the sentences, will be decided by the Constitution Bench and framed seven questions to be decided by it.
The Tamil Nadu government had prematurely issued release orders for the killers of the then Congress chief by invoking provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran were the other four convicts whose release was decided by the Tamil Nadu government.Challenging the decision, the Centre rushed to the Supreme Court, which stayed their release on February 20.
The apex court has yet to decide whether the sentence of a prisoner, whose death penalty has been commuted to life, can be remitted by a government.
Gandhi was killed on 21 May 1991 in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. At least 26 people were found guilty of the act and were given death penalty by the Supreme Court. The assassins were convicted by a TADA court in January 1998 and were awarded death sentence, which was confirmed by the apex court 11 May 1999.
Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan are currently lodged in the Central Prison, Vellore, in Tamil Nadu and they are in incarceration since 1991. Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, are undergoing life sentence for their role in the assassination.