India stays execution of 'House of Horrors' cannibal killer

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of a self-confessed cannibal who was found guilty of carrying out a series of murders of young girls at a bungalow that became known as the "House of Horrors".

Judges H.L. Dattu and A.R. Dave announced in a written order that they were suspending the imminent death sentence of former domestic worker Surinder Koli for a week.

Koli, 42, had been sentenced to death for murdering 14-year-old Rimpa Halder in 2005 at a bungalow on the outskirts of New Delhi where as many as 19 girls are feared to have been raped and killed. He has already been convicted of five cases of murder, rape and cannibalism while a further 14 cases are still pending, although the death sentence only relates to the killing of Rimpa.

"Considering the urgency of the matter, we stay the execution of the death sentence of applicant/petitioner for a period of one week from today," said the court order after Koli's lawyer argued that he deserved a fresh appeal, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

Monday's stay of execution follows a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court last week that said every death-row convict had the "fundamental right" to a fresh appeal in an open court.

Koli had confessed to having sex with his dead victims and also eating some of their body parts.

Koli was set to be hanged anytime between Sept 7 and Sept 12 in the northern city of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh state, according to his lawyer Indira Jaising. Now his petition will be heard by a special three-judge bench.

"The open court will now decide whether his death sentence can be reviewed or not," Mr Jaising told AFP.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began a probe when 69 plastic bags with human remains were dredged from sewers around the property in the suburb of Noida.

Bungalow owner Maninder Singh Pandher was also charged with first-degree murder in the same case but he was acquitted in 2009.

Indian courts can only sentence convicts to death if the crime qualifies as a "rarest of rare case".

The last person to be executed in India was a local Kashmiri man last year over a deadly 2001 attack on the national parliament in New Delhi.