Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, who were convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, on Thursday pleaded in the Supreme Court for commutation of their death sentence to life imprisonment, citing inordinate delay in the disposal of their mercy petitions by the former President Pratibha Patil.

Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Murugan, submitted before a Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh that the convicts should be extended the benefit of the court’s January 21 judgment that inordinate and unexplained delay in disposal of mercy petitions by the President is a ground for commutation of the death sentence.

Mr. Jethmalani submitted that even as Murugan’s mercy petition was pending, he sent several reminders to Ms. Patil, but there was no response.

Pointing out that there was no explanation for the inordinate delay in the disposal of his mercy petition after five-and-a-half years, he said: “The facts speak for themselves.”

‘Apply Jan. 21 ruling’

Counsel Yug Chaudhry, appearing for the other two accused, argued that the President did not apply her mind while deciding on the mercy petition, and asked why there was so much delay.

Counsel said that while the mercy petitions of other convicts were considered, those of his clients were not. The January 21 judgment, he reasoned, should be applied and Santhan and Perarivalan’s death sentence should be commuted.

Murugan’s wife, S. Nalini, was also sentenced to death but it was later commuted to life imprisonment at the intervention of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Nalini is serving her sentence in a prison in Tamil Nadu.

The Supreme Court in May 2012 transferred to itself the writ petitions filed by the three convicts in the Madras High Court challenging the rejection of their clemency plea by Ms. Patil after 11 years. The High Court on August 30, 2011 stayed their execution.

Next hearing

When arguments continue on February 4, Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati will make his submissions on behalf of the Centre.

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