In a judgment likely to further divide the public opinion on capital punishment in the country, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court on Friday delivered a split verdict on the death sentence awarded to self-proclaimed godman Swami Shraddhananda, convicted of killing his wife Shakereh Namazi in Bangalore in 1991.
The Bench of Justices SB Sinha and Markandey Katju referred the matter to a larger bench after they concurred on the guilt of the convict but differed if the case fell into “rarest of the rare” category.
Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan would now constitute the larger bench, which would decide the quantum of punishment to be awarded to the convict.
While Justice Sinha held that Shraddhananda deserved life imprisonment, Justice Katju upheld the death sentence awarded to the convict by the Karnataka High Court.
The fate of 71-year-old Shraddhananda alias Manohar Mishra of Sagar district in Madhya Pradesh, who has already served more than thirteen years in jail, remains uncertain until the larger bench finally decides the issue.
The High Court had in September 2005 confirmed the May 2005 death sentence given to the 'godman' by a Bangalore sessions court, which held him guilty of burning his wife Shakereh alive in the backyard of the house in 1991.
The deceased, a grand daughter of former diwan of earstwhile state of Mysore Mirza Ismail, had married Shraddhanand in 1986 after she seperated from her first husband Akbar K Khaleeli, a former Indian envoy to Iran.
Five years after the marriage Shakereh went missing and the incident came to light only when her daughter Shabah Khaleeli filed a complaint with the Bangalore Police in June 1992.
The body of Shakereh was exhumed in the backyard of his house on March 30, 1994 and he was arrested on April 30, 1994 after his servant confessed to the murder.
The Police had alleged that Shraddananda murdered Shakereh to usurp her property. In fact he continued to live in Shakereh's bungalow after her death. When Shakereh's daughters questioned Shraddananda about their mother, he had told them that she had gone abroad.
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