The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to five of the life convicts allegedly responsible for the sensational murder of Santhakumar, an employee of the popular Sarvana Bhavan group of hotels whose owner P Rajagopal was also sentenced to life imprisonment by Madras High Court.

The murder, according to the prosecution, was plotted by Rajagopal as he wanted to marry Jeeva Jyothi, wife of the murdered employee. Rajagopal was earlier granted bail by the apex court on medical grounds.

A bench of Justices B N Agrawal and G S Singhvi granted bail to the five convicts Daniel, Karmegam, Hussain alias Zakir Hussain, Kasi alias Kasi Viswanathan and Pattu Rajan. The five, according to the prosecution, were hired by Rajagopal to commit the murder.

Senior defence counsel Sushil Kumar claimed the convicts were entitled to bail as the conviction was based solely on circumstantial evidence.

The body of Santhakumar was found by forest officials at Perumalmalai in Kodaikanal range in October 2001. It was buried in the Kodaikanal municipal burial ground. Later, the body was identified to be that of Santhakumar and a chargesheet filed for offences under section 302(murder) 364 (abduction) and 201 (destruction of evidence) IPC, following which the alleged conspiracy came to light.

On March 20, the Madras High Court convicted Rajagopal, proprietor of the Saravana Bhavan hotels, under section 302 IPC (punishment for murder) and sentenced him to undergo life imprisonment along with the five others who were granted bail by the apex on Wednesday.

The high court had enhanced the sentence from 10 years to life imprisonment on an appeal filed by the state government after the sessions court held them guilty under IPC Section 304 Part-I (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and imposed a sentence for 10 years.

The appeal of the convicts is pending before the apex court.

The high court, while enhancing the sentence against the six convicts, confirmed the sentence of three-year imprisonment on Tamil alias Tamil Selvan, Sethu and Muruganandam imposed by the sessions court.