French 'Bikini Killer' awaits appeal verdict in Nepal
Nepal's Supreme Court is set to rule Wednesday on an appeal by a Frenchman linked to a series of grisly backpacker killings across Asia in the 1970s who is contesting his murder conviction.
Charles Sobhraj, a balding 65-year-old dubbed the "Bikini Killer," could walk free if the court overturns his 20-year sentence for the killing of an American backpacker in 1975.
Sobhraj was convicted six years ago of killing Connie Joe Bronzich, a tourist who was stabbed repeatedly before being burnt almost beyond recognition and then dumped on the outskirts of Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital.
"The Supreme Court has scheduled the final verdict on the case of Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj for tomorrow," said court spokesman Sri Kanta Poudel.
A Kathmandu district court originally sentenced the talented linguist, who police describe as a charming con man, to life imprisonment in 2004. This judgment was later upheld by another district court a year later.
The 65-year-old has maintained his innocence throughout, saying he had never visited Nepal before he was arrested at a Kathmandu casino in 2003, though a retired policeman has since testified that he saw Sobhraj in Nepal in 1975.
Handwriting analysis played a significant part in Sobhraj's conviction, with signatures on two hotel registration cards around the time of the murder said to be his.
His lawyers say the originals were never produced during his trial, only photocopies.
"After fighting for years, we want this to be settled soon. We are hopeful that the decision will be made tomorrow," Ram Bandu Sharma, one of Sobhraj's lawyers for the last seven years, told AFP.
Sharma said Sobhraj, a self-trained legal expert, had no plans to show up at the court, but had been informed of the proceedings.
Sobhraj, born to Vietnamese and Indian parents but of French nationality, has been linked to the deaths of at least 12 backpackers across Asia in the 1970s -- events that led to the "Bikini Killer" sobriquet.
He was previously convicted in India, where he served 21 years in prison for culpable homicide. He was eventually released and returned to live in France.
"I really didn't do it, and I think I will be out," Sobhraj told AFP in a 2006 interview about his murder conviction in Nepal.
"In my case, there are no documents and no witnesses (to the crime). I think that the court will have to free me."
Sobhraj has escaped from jails in Greece, Afghanistan and India, where he drugged guards with sedative-laced sweets and walked out of a New Delhi jail.
He also tried to escape from Kathmandu's central jail in November 2004 but guards uncovered the plot.
© 2010 AFP