New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the death sentence awarded to Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone gunman captured alive during the November 26-29, 2008 Mumbai terror attack.

An Apex Court bench of Justice Aftab Alam and Justice CK Prasad stayed the death sentence till it hears his petition challenging his conviction and death sentence.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Alam said that “we have to afford him full opportunity” to defend himself as provided in the judicial system.

“That is the price we have to pay to uphold the supremacy of law,” the court said.

Senior counsel Raju Ramachandran, who has been appointed amicus curiae (friend of the court) to defend Kasab, said, “People may believe it otherwise, but the due process of law demands that the accused should be given full opportunity to defend his case in the highest court.”

Kasab was one of 10 Pakistanis who illegally sailed into India from Pakistan and launched the Nov 26-29 mayhem killing 166 people, including many foreigners.

He was awarded death sentence by a Mumbai trial court May 6, 2010. Besides other charges, he was convicted for waging war against the nation. The Bombay High Court upheld the verdict.

Kasab tells SC he was brainwashed

Ajmal Kasab claimed in the Supreme Court he was brainwashed like a "robot" into committing the heinous crime in the name of "God" and that he does not deserve capital punishment owing to his young age.

Though at the outset claiming innocence, Kasab posed a rider that even assuming he was guilty, death penalty cannot be awarded to him as he was brainwashed into committing the crime and was not beyond reform owing to his young age.

In his special leave petition challenging the death penalty, Kasab through counsel Gaurav Agrawal claimed that he was innocent and his so-called confessional statement had no evidentiary value as there was no corroboration.

The 24-year-old lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai carnage that left 166 persons dead submitted that he had retracted the disclosure statements, but the same was relied upon by the trial court and the high court for handing down the death penalty.

"The High Court ought to have held that even if the petitioner was guilty for the offences alleged this wasn’t a fit case for imposing death sentence on the petitioner inter-alia for the reason that the petitioner's mind was completely brainwashed by the other co-accused.

"He was acting like a robot having been made to believe that he was acting in the name of God when he was allegedly told to commit the aforesaid offences," the appeal said. The petition claimed that the high court which confirmed the death penalty did not consider the fact that at the time of the crime Kasab was only 21 years which should have been considered as a mitigating factor for not awarding him death penalty.

"For that the High Court ought to have held that the petitioner was barely 21 years of age and being of impressionable mind has failed to see the difference between right and wrong, he therefore, did not deserve the death penalty.

"It is respectfully submitted that even apart from the petitioner's age, the prosecution's own case revealed that the petitioner was from an economically deprived section of society, that he left school at a young age and also ran away from home following a fight with his father.

"His mental and moral faculties are not fully developed at such a young age and hence it cannot be asserted that the possibility for reformation is non-existent and that the alternative to the death penalty is foreclosed," the petition said.

According to the petition, the confessional statement was not corroborated by any evidence and Kasab was also not conversant with the Indian laws vis-a-vis statements made before the police and the Judicial Magistrate.

Further, the counsel said that there was no evidence to prove that Kasab had joined a conspiracy to wage war against India.

JPN/Agencies