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Families keep fingers crossed

- Court stirs hope

Bangalore, Feb. 18: Senita Mary’s “gut feeling” is that her father will one day walk free.

She isn’t the only one hoping. The families of four men, aides of slain forest brigand Veerappan, are hopeful of a happy ending after the Supreme Court today stayed their hanging till Wednesday.

The four — the brigand’s elder brother and Mary’s father Gnanprakasham, Simon, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilavendran — are now lodged in a jail in Belgaum.

“My gut feeling is that my father will walk free with the others as they are all innocent,” Mary told The Telegraph today from Marathalli village in Kollegal taluk, near the Tamil Nadu border some 200km from here.

“They did no wrong but somehow got caught in this. We are all praying for all of them as we know these men have not killed anybody.”

Police reports had said the four men were close aides of the sandalwood smuggler, who ruled the Sathyamangalam forest range spread across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala before being killed in an encounter in October 2004. They were convicted in the April 1993 landmine blast at Palar, Karnataka, that killed 22 police personnel from the Tamil Nadu special task force set up to arrest Veerappan.

Asked if she had arranged a lawyer for her father, Mary said: “I don’t know anything about it as some human rights activists were helping us.”

“We were saying from the beginning that they were falsely implicated. I am praying that the sentences are commuted to at least life terms,” she added.

K. Gopalakrishnan, former task force SP who survived the landmine blast but needed nine surgeries, said he would wait for the court’s decision. “I am not in a position to talk as the matter is now in court,” he said.

The bus he was travelling in was blown apart when it ran over a landmine laid by Veerappan and his associates.

Veerappan’s wife Muthulakshmi, who was planning a protest with her supporters, has backed out. “I was told by rights activists that such a protest might be detrimental in fighting the case of the four (on death row),” she said.

Veerappan, who lorded over a 6,000sqkm forest area, had unleashed terror for around two decades. He had murdered a couple of IPS officers and one forest official before the Palar incident.

But his kidnapping of Kannada movie icon Rajkumar in 2000 had angered the people of Karnataka. The actor was released after 100 days.