Bengaluru: The Supreme Court on Friday commuted death penalty of a rape and murder convict, observing that he was incarcerated in solitary confinement, which led to ill-effects on his well-being.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice U. U. Lalit noted that B. A. Umesh was kept in solitary confinement at Belagavi jail for a period of 10 years in violation of law.
“The incarceration in solitary confinement, thus, did show ill effects on the well-being of the appellant. Against the backdrop of these features of the matter, in our view, the appellant is entitled to have the death sentence imposed upon him to be commuted to life,” said the bench, also comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Bela M. Trivedi.
However, the top court said he should undergo a minimum sentence of 30 years before considering any remission plea on his behalf.
“In our view, ends of justice would be met if while commuting the death sentence awarded to the appellant, we impose upon him sentence of life imprisonment with a rider that he shall undergo minimum sentence of 30 years and if any application for remission is moved on his behalf, the same shall be considered on its own merits only after he has undergone actual sentence of 30 years,” it said.
Umesh moved the apex court challenging the Karnataka High Court’s order passed in September 2021, dismissing his plea for quashing the rejection of his mercy plea due to delay. He also questioned the decision to keep him in solidarity confinement since trial court handed down a death penalty to him in 2006.
The bench noted that in the instant case, the period of solitary confinement is for about ten years and has two elements: one, from 2006 till the disposal of mercy petition in 2013, and secondly from the date of such disposal till 2016.
The top court noted that the entire period beginning from March 3, 2011 to May 15, 2013 spanning over a period of 2 years and 3 months saw disposal of mercy petition at two different levels, one, by the Governor and other by the President.
All the while, there was an order of stay granted by it on March 19, 2011, which was operating all through.
“First and foremost, the time taken by each of these authorities and the functionaries assisting them cannot be called or termed as ‘inordinate delay’ and secondly, it was not as if every passing day was adding to the agony of the appellant. The order of stay of execution had put the matter in a different perspective. In the given facts and circumstances of the case, in our view, the first submission does not merit acceptance,” said the apex court.
The top court also clarified that a death row convict can file mercy plea after exhaustion of all remedies in court of law and not within seven days of rejection of appeal.
The apex court in 2016 upheld the sentence of death penalty imposed on Umesh, a cop-turned-criminal, for raping and murdering a woman in Bengaluru’s Peenya Police Station limits on February 28, 1998. The apex court had considered his criminal antecedents, including seven convictions for rape and robbery among others. It then rejected his plea against the capital punishment and noted that “there is little hope of rehabilitation and reformation of the petitioner.”