But they must remain in the prison for the rest of their lives

President Pratibha Patil has commuted the death sentences of three prisoners lodged in the Central Prison here to life terms.

The order from the President was issued after the prisoners – C. Selvam, V. Radhakrishnan and A. Sheikh Meeran -- submitted mercy petitions a few years ago appealing to commute their death sentences.

The Tiruchi Central Prison authorities received a communication in this regard from the State government on Wednesday evening and the matter has been conveyed to the three prisoners.

Prison authorities told The Hindu that the three prisoners should remain in the prison for the whole of their natural life. There shall be no remission of the term of imprisonment, said the authorities, quoting a direction from the government.

The trio were arrested and awarded death sentences for murdering Ayyavoo, described as a notorious gang leader, in the court hall in front of a Judicial Magistrate at Nagercoil in December 1994.

In all, seven accused were convicted in this case in 1998 by the Sessions Court, Nagercoil. Of them, Selvam, Radhakrishnan and Sheikh Meeran were sentenced to death with the remaining being awarded life sentence. The death sentences were confirmed by the Madras High Court in April 1999 and Special Leave Petitions in the Supreme Court against the verdict were rejected in June 1999.

After being lodged in different Central Prisons, they were brought to Tiruchi Prison in March 2008. They are presently in the high security block in the sprawling jail that accommodates over 1,000 inmates. There is only one condemned prisoner remaining in the Tiruchi Prison, the authorities said.

Running feud

P. S. Suresh Kumar adds from Nagercoil:

Ayyavoo, who belonged to Vadassery, had a running feud with a gang led by Selvam in the same area. Ayyavoo and his men had attacked Selvam with deadly weapons and escaped, assuming that he was dead. However, Selvam survived to organise a retaliatory attack on Ayyavoo on the court premises.