The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the death sentence awarded by a lower court to three All Indian Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK) activists for torching a bus near Dharmpuri in Salem district of Tamil Nadu in February 2000, in the process killing three college students and injuring several others.
A bench of Justice PP Naolekar and Justice CK Thakkar stayed the death sentence while admitting the appeal by the three challenging the Madras High Court ruling, which endorsed the death penalty imposed upon them by a Salem trial court.
The three men, Nedunchezhian, Ravindran and C Munappan, moved the apex court contending that their crime did not belong to "rarest of the rare category" warranting a death sentence.
While protesting the conviction of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalaltha by a trial court on Feb 2, 2000, the three, along with some others, set afire a bus carrying students of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.
The incident had resulted in the death of three students - Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemlatha - while 44 others were seriously injured in the incident.
While a Salem trial court had sentenced the AIADMK activists to death on Feb 16, 2007, the Madras High Court had upheld the death penalty to them on Dec 6 last year.
In their appeal, the three men said even by the prosecution version, the incident was neither "a case gruesome killing" nor "rarest of the rare" one, warranting a death sentence.
They contended that even the prosecution conceded that it was a crime committed on the spur of the moment during a political agitation.
The trio also contended that the prosecution had not been able to prove the case against them beyond reasonable doubt.