NEW DELHI, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- India's Supreme Court Tuesday commuted the death sentence of three killers of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to life in prison.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, gave relief to the three men on death row, citing inordinate delay by the Indian President in deciding their clemency petition.
The apex court also left it to the government of the southern state of Tamil Nadu to decide whether to release the three convicts -- Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan -- by granting them remission.
The court's order came in the wake of a petition by the trio against their death sentence, despite the Indian government vehemently opposing their plea.
Indian Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati had earlier said that there was "not a word of remorse" in the three convicts' petition for mercy.
The trio were convicted by a court in 1998 for the former Indian Prime Minister's assassination in 1991 in a suicide bomb attack plotted by the former Tamil Tiger rebels of Sri Lanka.
Their mercy petition was rejected by the Indian President 11 years later. But their executions were stayed in 2011 on the order of the High Court in Tamil Nadu's capital Chennai.
Murugan's wife Nalini was also sentenced to death but was granted clemency following intervention of Rajiv Gandhi's widow and ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi.
India hardly executes prisoners on death row, despite the two exceptions of the only survivor of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, a Pakistani militant, and Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri fruit seller who plotted the 2001 Parliament attack.
The duo were executed in 2012 and 2013 respectively in a gap of six months.