The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to a life convict to show cause why the sentence awarded to him, for murdering his wife and four children (three sons and one daughter) and inflicting injuries on another daughter with knife and axe, not be enhanced to death penalty.

The notice by a Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and C.K. Prasad assumes significance in the context of a growing debate whether courts should award death penalty at all, particularly when clemency was being sought to commute death sentence into life imprisonment.

Prosecution case

In the instant case, the prosecution's case against Alok Verma was that he murdered his wife and four children and caused injuries to another daughter, taking the help of a hired person.

“This is because his wife protested against his indulgence in gambling, taking liquor and crimes like kidnapping. He had earlier to undergo imprisonment for one year in a case of kidnapping. His wife tried to persuade him not to commit these illegal acts and get reformed, but instead he would often beat her, and ultimately he committed these ghastly and brutal crimes of murdering his wife and four children, who are aged about 10, 8, 5 and 2 years respectively.”

Trial court verdict

The trial court in Uttar Pradesh awarded death penalty to him but on appeal, the Allahabad High Court commuted it to life imprisonment. The present appeal by U.P. sought restoration of the trial court's order.

The Bench in its interim order said: “The surviving daughter Priyanka is an eyewitness and that apart there is convincing circumstantial evidence also on the basis of which the respondent has been convicted by the courts.

Bloodstained weapons

“A bloodstained axe was found in the room, while the knife which was also used in committing these horrible crimes had been concealed by the accused. The shirt of the accused was bloodstained. The accused took the police to the place where he had concealed a polythene bag containing the bloodstained knife which was used and some other items, including the bloodstained shirt.”

Urdu couplet quoted

The Bench recalled the Urdu couplet that Justice Mehmood of the Allahabad High Court quoted in one of his judgments while deciding a murder appeal: “Jo Chup Rahegi Zuban-e-khanjar, Lahu pukarega asteen ka.”

It said: “We cannot imagine a more ghastly act and, we are, prima facie, of the opinion that this falls in the category of rarest of rare cases in which death sentence should have been given.

The trial court, no doubt, awarded death sentence to the respondent. Prima facie, we find the reasoning of the High Court to be strange.

“Not an excuse”

“Merely because a person is in financial crisis does not mean that he is at liberty to commit ghastly and gruesome murders. It appears that the wife of the accused was of a noble character who tried to reform him, but the accused rather than being reformed committed these monstrous crimes. We fail to understand how the High Court could reduce the death sentence in these circumstances.”