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Woman faces execution after slaughtering her parents, brothers, and baby nephew

   April 27, 2021 2:43 AM
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by Aubra Salt - The Oregon Herald

She was sentenced to death by hanging Her baby nephew, was strangled to death between his parents' bodies
BAWAN KHERI, India - The sounds of a woman screaming for help at 2 AM in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh woke neighbors who slowly slipped outside to find an unimaginable scene of mass murder.

Villager Lateef Ullah Khan arrived to find villager Shabnam lying unconscious on the floor near her father, Shaukat Ali, whose neck was cut nearly clean through. It was learned that her family members had been drugged then as they slept, their heads held high and throats viciously slashed, blood soaking bedding and running to the floor in puddles.

The bodies of Shabnam's two brothers, her mother, sister-in-law and a 14-year-old cousin had been nearly beheaded. Blood was splattered over furniture and walls.

Her baby nephew had been strangled to death and lay between the blood-soaked bodies of his parents.

Shabnam was eight weeks pregnant but she was able to murder seven of her family members, including a 10-month old child.

Shabnam laced her family's evening tea with a sedative Saleem bought with the help of a fruit seller, court documents show. Then, as the family slept, Shabnam called her lover Saleem who arrived with an ax. She had drugged her family then an axe was used as a murder weapon.

She is the first woman to face death penalty in India since 1955. Now she pleads for mercy after she and her boyfriend planned the murders of her parents, brothers and baby nephew.

"Shabnam held up the heads of each member of my family, one by one and cut their throats and killed them," Saleem confessed soon after the murders to Bilal Ahmad, a tea seller with connections to the district police chief.

A motive for the murders seems to have developed; Ahmad reported Saleem's confession to the police and told in court what Saleem had confessed: "I have made a mistake, I am in love with Shabnam, a girl from my village, and she loves me too. We have vowed to live and die together. We cannot live without each other. Because of this, Shabnam's family beat her up and said that they won't let her marry me."

It seems Saleem additionally confessed to a village administrative official, Mahender Singh, the day after the killings, asking him to use his political connections to keep him out of jail.

After the police arrested him, Saleem retrieved a blood-stained ax from a pond that police believe is the murder weapon. They found empty containers of drugs used to drug the family.

Shabnam first claimed hoodlums had entered their home and committed the crime, but police dismissed the theory because the roof of the house was too high to scale while their house had well sealed doors.

If Shabnam is executed, she will be first woman given the death penalty in India since 1955.

But her legal team is attempting to stop her execution claiming she is a victim, too. Her Lawyer says her client never pled guilty to a crime. She says her client is a victim of a society that puts caste above all else.

Shabnam and Saleem were young lovers who lived in the same village although their families didn't approve of their union.

Shabnam, 22, was an educated teacher from the Saifi community. Saleem, then 24, was an unemployed Pathan youth.

Because of the 'caste system' in India, families often pressure children to marry within their own communities and failures can end with disowning the child. In extreme cases, there are honor killings when family members are murdered for bringing some kind of assumed shame for the family.

Before the murders, Lal Mohammad, the father of Shabnam's deceased sister-in-law Anjum, told authorities about the couple's relationship.

"Shabnam is going in the wrong direction, she wants to marry Saleem and the atmosphere at home is very tense," Mohammad recalled Anjum as saying, according to his witness statement at Shabnam's 2008 district court trial.

Sukkhan Ali, Shabnam's cousin, told the court during the 2008 hearing that Saleem would often come to Shabnam's house to meet her which made the father beat her, but her family didn't know that Shabnam was already pregnant with Saleem's child.

In his ruling, the district court judge SAA Husaini said that locals "would not have been able to accept the illegitimate act," referring to their unborn child.

However, the judge said the couple had other options to escape the "conservative society" of Bawan Kheri, beyond murdering seven people.

Then the prosecution argued that Shabnam wanted to kill her family so she would be the sole heiress of their property and could live in comfort with Saleem and their newborn and so they could be together.

However, they turned on each other during the trial. Shabnam said Saleem alone had killed everyone. Saleem said Shabnam had been drinking wine and called him after she had killed her family, asking him to get rid of the evidence.

In the end, the district court found the both guilty of murdering seven people, and sentenced them to death by hanging. They appealed to the High Court of Uttar Pradesh, as well as the Supreme Court of India, the country's highest court, but their claims of innocence were dismissed

The Supreme Court noted in its 2015 judgment that Shabnam had "feigned unconsciousness and lay by the side of the dead father's mutilated body, to callously pretend the murders had been committed by an outsider."

Her lawyer, Shreya Rastogi claims that the crime created another 'victim', Shabnam's son, Bittu who Shabnam raised in prison before giving him up.

Bittu is now 12 years-old and is appealing to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind to show mercy for his mother.

In February this year, after rumors of Shabnam's planned hanging made headlines, Bittu held up a wrote to reporters with a chalk message written;

"President Uncle Ji please forgive my mother Shabnam," it said.

In February this year, lawyers for Shabnam and Saleem filed a mercy plea with the governor of Uttar Pradesh state, as a representative of the President, and the President himself.

According to Rastogi, as per case law, when conferring a death sentence a court must look at the criminal beyond the crime, to see whether there exists a possibility of reformation and rehabilitation.

"What better way to understand a young mother than to see her through the lens of her relationship with her son?" Rastogi asked.

Some Indian activists who have been campaigning to abolish the death penalty feel that executing a woman for the first time in 66 years would be a step in the wrong direction for the country.

A United Nations resolution for a global moratorium on the death penalty introduced since 2007 has constantly been voted against by India.