On August 23, 2001, her 19th birthday, Sonia and her husband Sanjeev murdered eight members of her family. She believed she was being cut off from the family property, said to be worth hundreds of crores of rupees.
Her father, Relu Ram Punia, was a former Haryana MLA. He was among those clubbed to death, along with Sonia’s sister, stepmother, stepbrother, his wife and their three children, the eldest aged four, the youngest a month old.
The trial court awarded death to the couple in 2004, the high court commuted it to life in 2005, and the Supreme Court upheld death in 2007.
In Tuesday’s ruling commuting the sentences to life, the Supreme Court cited the time Sonia and Sanjeev have spent in custody since their arrests in 2001 — 12 years 3 months until December — besides delays in disposal of their mercy petitions and the arrival of the information about the rejection of the petitions.
“…We hold that the delay in disposal of mercy petitions is undue and [this] is unexplained and one of the circumstances for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment,” reads Tuesday’s order. “In addition, due to unbearable mental agony after confirmation of death sentence, petitioner No.1 attempted suicide.”
The commutation will make the couple eligible for parole or furlough to meet their only child, now about 12, who is being looked after by the family of Sanjeev, 38. The two are lodged in Ambala central jail and meet each other once a fortnight.
DDC vice-chairperson Ashish Khetan said, “As of today he does not hold the charge anymore.”