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Wife-killer swami to be hanged

Bangalore, May 21: Self-proclaimed godman Swami Shraddhananda was today sentenced to death by a local court for killing his wife Shakereh, the granddaughter of the late Sir Mirza Ismail, the diwan of the former Mysore state.

Sabah Bakhache and Esmath Khaleeli, Shakereh’s daughters from her first marriage, and other relatives wept in each other’s arms in one corner of the court as the 60-year-old Shraddhananda leaned forward to hear the verdict ' hanged by neck until death.

The sentence, at 3.18 this afternoon, capped an 11-year-long trial of the godman, originally known as Manohar Mishra of Sagar in Madhya Pradesh. Additional city civil and sessions judge B.S. Thotad, however, asked jail authorities not to execute the death sentence till it was confirmed by Karnataka High Court.

As he was escorted out of the court complex, the stocky Shraddhananda, in a white kurta-pyjama and sneakers, told reporters he had “faith” in the judiciary. His lawyer said they would appeal in the high court.

Among those present in the packed court was C. Veeraiah, who investigated the case in 1994 and filed a chargesheet against Shraddhananda. Although he retired eight years ago, Veeraiah attended every hearing.

“This is a rare case. I am happy about the outcome. He came into that house as a help, wormed his way in to cause differences between the couple and ultimately a separation,” Veeraiah said, referring to the break-up between Shakereh and former Indian high commissioner to Australia Akbar Khaleeli.

“He conned her into believing that his spiritual powers will help her give birth to a baby boy and married her in 1986.”

Veeraiah said Shraddhananda, a high school dropout, showed “little remorse” throughout the investigation, telling the sleuths that he buried Shakereh alive because she had resisted his plans to sell off her property.

“In May 1994 (Shraddhananda was arrested on April 30, 1994) he was scheduled to receive Rs 2.5 crore as advance for the (Bangalore) mansion (where Shakereh was interred under a porch). He planned to sell that building for Rs 6 crore.”

Sabah and her younger sister, Esmath, praised the judiciary. “The judicial system has let us hear what we wanted to after 11 years. I wish it was faster, but I am happy. My father (Khaleeli) is an incredible man and so is Mr Nagesh (the senior public prosecutor). Without them nothing would have been possible. Now, we can go back to lead a normal life,” Esmath said.

“Nothing can be better for me,” said an emotional Sabah. “Justice has been done, though the death sentence is not a compensation. I cannot get back my mother.”

Soon after the verdict, Esmath called her other sisters ' Zeebundeh and Rehane, both settled abroad ' to communicate the news. Esmath said the skeletal remains of Shakereh, part of the evidence retained by the court during the trial, will be buried within a month. “We will pay our respects. It will be a family affair,” she said.

Nagesh said: “The judge has accepted our evidence and as in the case of all death sentences, this one will be sent to the high court for confirmation. This case rested on circumstantial evidence. One of the important pieces of evidence was recovery of the dead body of Shakereh.”

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