NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Thursday commuted the death sentence of four tricksters into life imprisonment for killing 10 innocent villagers of Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra after alluring them to a hillock with promise to multiply their cash using super-natural powers one claimed to have acquired.

Their heinous crime came to light in December 2003 from anonymous letters and phone calls to Superintendent of Police that some dead bodies were lying on the hillocks of Nandos village in Malvan taluka.

Police recovered seven bodies in the search on December 20, two more the next day and one on December 29 and investigations showed that the culprits were attracting the unsuspecting villagers and killing them over the period of two months until their game was up with the police action.

The trial court had sentenced all four to death penalty for the mass murders and the convictions were upheld by the Bombay High Court while sentencing three others to rigorous imprisonment for life.

In its judgment delivered on Thursday, the Bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment, but subject to remission. The other two judges on the Bench were Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh.

The Bench held that there is no doubt that the accused had committed the murders of unsuspecting victims by leading them to believe that one Santosh Manohar Chavan, an auto-rickshaw driver from Mumbai, had magic powers to multiply money. The victims were killed, their money that they brought for multiplying robbed in what was a clear greed to make quick money through a carefully planned scheme.

While noting that two of the victims were young and hapless children, the Court decided to commute the death sentences, noting that all four culprits were young, between 23 and 29 years, living in acute poverty, and observing that their conduct in jail not reprehensible as all of them rather enrolled in Yashwant Rao Chavan Maharashtra Open University and had either completed BA or were on the verge of acquiring the degree.

The four convicts were: auto-rickshaw driver Santosh Manohar Chavan, Amit Ashok Shinde, a LIC agent, Yogesh Madhukar Chavan, employed in a private institution and Mahesh Dhanaji Shinde, who was running a ration shop.  They used to spread the news of the magic powers of Santosh to multiply money by creating “money showers” among the innocent and unsuspecting persons and ask them to come to Malvan with currency notes of higher denominations along with empty gunny sacks to collect the proceeds of the money shower. In Malvan they were put up in lodges and hotels. From those lodges and hotels the victims would be ferried to the Nandos plateau by an auto rickshaw. The vehicle will halt near the village Panchayat Office from where the victims were asked to travel on feet to the plateau and it was there that they were killed and the money brought by them looted.

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