The family members of Simon, Bilavendran and Gnanaprakash, Veerappan aides who were on death row, were relieved and overcome with joy on learning that the Supreme Court had commuted their death sentence to life imprisonment, on Tuesday.
These three, and Meesekara Madaiah, were found guilty of killing 22 persons in landmine blast in Palar and awarded death sentence. Their mercy petition had been rejected by the President. They have been in the Hindalga Central Jail in Belgaum since 2004.
“We had faith in God and the Judiciary and our conscience was clear. We had a glimmer of hope and years of persistent efforts and legal battle resulted in our prayers being answered,” said Mani, brother-in-law of Bilavendran and a relative of Gnanaprakash.
Speaking to The Hindu over phone from his house at Marthahalli, bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, in Chamarajanagar district, Mr. Mani, who too was a suspect in the eyes of the police and the Special Task Force and was in prison for some time, said that many of his family members had been taken into custody for questioning.
“We had imagined that Simon, Bilavendran, Gnanaprakash and Madaiah too would return as most of us did. But things did not unfold as anticipated and the family had to undergo a long ordeal of almost 20 years which has now thankfully come to an end,” Mr. Mani said. “Prayers were being said regularly for their release and we feel they have been answered,” he added.
Advocate Venugopal, who represented Bilavendran, Simon and Meesekara Madaiah in the District Court, said that he was happy that the three would return to their family after 21 years in jail and would spend the evening of their life with their loved ones.
Mathew Philips of South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM) said that he welcomed the decision, though it was based on technical grounds. He pointed out that human rights groups are campaigning for the abolition of death penalty altogether. Whatever the reason for commuting death penalty, it is welcome, and as more countries are repealing capital punishment, India too should emulate them, Mr. Philips said.