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Why were Veerappan's four aides sentenced to death by SC?

Four former associates of slain sandalwood smuggler Veerappan seem to be set to be the next to climb to the gallows after President Pranab Mukherjee turned down their mercy pleas.

Who are the four:

Gnanaprakasam, Bilavendra, Meesai Madhaiah and Simon are former associates of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan.

What are they convicted for:

The police were carrying out an operation in the Andhiyur forests on the night of 7 April,  1993 when they got information that an informant Sadayan, was killed in Gopinatham, which is Veerappan's home village.

The smuggler was killed in a shootout with security forces. Reuters

The smuggler was killed in a shootout with security forces. Reuters

The police team comprising 15 informers, two watchers from the Forest Department and 14 policemen were travelling to the village when their vehicle went over landmine. Even after the blast, the others in the police party were targeted with gunfire. Twenty-two persons were killed in the attack.

The four were part of 124 persons who were arrested in connection with the case and booked under the now defunct Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention Act).  117 of the accused were acquitted. However, seven persons were sentenced to life imprisonment. Of the seven, the Supreme Court took up the case of the four and sentenced them to death in connection with planting the mine.

What the Supreme Court said while sentencing them to death

The Supreme Court chose to overrule the lower court's ruling sentencing the four to life imprisonment and instead modified their punishment to death penalty:

They do not deserve any sympathetic consideration. There is no evidence or foundation for the conclusion that they acted under the duress of Accused No.1 (Veerappan). The facts of the present case do not show that the appellants were compelled to fall in line with the criminal activity of accused No.1 or that they joined his group on account of any duress or compulsion. The manner in which the crime was committed clearly shows that any person can contemplate the disastrous effect of blasting of landmines. It is evident that the crime was diabolically planned. The appellants are threat and grave danger to society at large. They must have anticipated that their activity would result in elimination of large number of lives. As a result of criminal activities, the normal life of those living in the area has been totally shattered. It would be mockery of justice if extreme punishment is not imposed. Thus, having given anxious consideration to all the circumstances aggravating and mitigating, in our view, there can hardly be a more appropriate case than the present one to award maximum sentence. We have to perform this onerous duty for self- preservation, i.e., preservation of persons who are living and working in the area where appellants and their group operate.

In view of the aforesaid, while dismissing the appeals and confirming the conviction of the appellants, we enhance the sentence of each of them from life imprisonment to death penalty.

What their families said:

While Simon is not married, the three others have families who are likely to appeal against the president's decision.

A detailed report in the Hindu in 2004 documents the families of the three who are facing the death penalty. All the families live in penury and have claimed the three men are innocent.

“My mother is very worried since presspersons are asking her about this matter since Tuesday. We are planning to go to Belgaum to see our father,” Paramasivam, son of Madhaiah was quoted as saying in another Hindu report.