Aug. 21: The Supreme Court today stayed the execution of two Karnataka rape-and-murder convicts scheduled for tomorrow, hours after an alleged jail suicide attempt by one of the men.
Shivu Munishetty, whose mercy plea had been rejected by the President earlier this month, slashed his wrist and private parts early this morning in a Belgaum prison.
Government sources described it as a “trick” to halt the execution. Munishetty’s family had yesterday threatened mass suicide at the jail if he was hanged.
In Delhi, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam did not take the incident into account when it heard the matter.
The bench issued notices to the Karnataka government, seeking its response on duo’s review plea and tagging their petition with others in which the court had stayed executions. It had halted one in Madhya Pradesh a fortnight ago.
Munishetty and Jadeswamy Rangashetty, in their mid-thirties, were sentenced to death for brutally raping and murdering a teenager in 2001. They have moved the Supreme Court to have their sentences commuted to life terms.
In Karnataka, conflicting accounts emerged about how Munishetty slashed himself. G Veerabhadraswamy, the superintendent of Belgaum’s Hindalga Central Prison, claimed the convict had used a “broken tile” he had somehow managed to sneak into his cell.
“The cuts were shallow and there’s nothing serious,” Veerabhadraswamy said, without explaining how prisoners managed keep such sharp objects in the barracks. Other sources said a blade was used.
The high-security prison, some 500km from Bangalore, is where death-row convicts in Karnataka are usually lodged.
Munishetty was taken to the hospital within the jail premises but the sources said doctors from the Belgaum district hospital were summoned and they sutured the wounds.
A handwritten letter was found in Munishetty’s possession this morning. The note claimed innocence and alleged he was falsely accused by police at the behest of the murdered girl’s uncle with whom he had a quarrel over money.
Copies of the purported letter, written in Kannada, reached local dailies in Belgaum within a few hours.
The sources said Munishetty’s family, who had met him yesterday, could have passed on the letter or it could have been taken out by jail officials, in which case it raised another question mark on the prison’s security.
A large group of around 60 relatives, including three sisters, met him yesterday and tied rakhi on Munishetty and fellow death-row convict Rangashetty.
The two were sentenced to death by a trial court in July 2005. Karnataka High Court rejected their appeals and confirmed the punishment in October that year. The Supreme Court upheld it in 2007.