The Supreme Court on Friday declined to entertain a writ petition filed by four death-row associates of the slain forest brigand Veerappan — Simon, Gnanaprakash, Madaiah and Bilavendra — seeking retrial of their cases on the ground that fresh evidence had come to light.

The court already stayed their executions after mercy petitions were rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee. The court had reserved verdict on their plea for commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment on the ground that the President had caused undue delay in dealing with their mercy petitions.

When senior counsel Colin Gonsalves said fresh evidence had come to light warranting fresh trial, the CJI told him: “If we encourage this writ petition, then in every case there will be pleas for fresh investigation. We can’t reopen the trial. If we encourage this type of petitions, it will set a bad precedent.”

The CJI referred to a recent statement made by one of the investigating officers in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case that he had not fully recorded the statement of accused Perarivalan. “The IO makes a statement after 20 years. Nowadays it has become a fashion to make such statements, maybe it is in Veerappan case or Rajiv Gandhi case. We can’t encourage such petitions,” said Justice Sathasivam.

Counsel said that in the United Kingdom and the United States, whenever fresh evidence was brought to light, courts always looked into it. In this case, ‘new evidence has now come to light showing that the petitioners are innocent and have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.”

The CJI, however, said: “We have already reserved judgment. Be optimistic.”

The Bench later permitted counsel to withdraw the petition.

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