India Holds First Execution in Nine Years

A man convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl was hanged at dawn Saturday after saying a brief prayer, in India's first execution in nine years.

Dozens of anti-death penalty protesters held a vigil outside the prison, and were silent at 4:30 a.m., when Dhananjay Chatterjee (search), 39, was hanged in the courtyard of Alipora Correctional Home (search), where he has spent the last 13 years in solitary confinement.

He "was absolutely fine, in (a) normal mood ... Just before hanging, he told the jail officials 'God bless you,"' Inspector-General of Prisons Joydeb Chakraborty told reporters. "He had some sweetmeat and a little bit of curd before stepping on to the gallows."

Before climbing to the gallows, Chatterjee, the son of a Brahmin (search) priest, said a prayer, prison officials said. Religious songs were played on a cassette player.

Chatterjee's shrouded body was later cremated in an electric furnace, police said. Some Hindu funeral rites could not be completed because his family wasn't there.

Chatterjee was convicted of raping and suffocating Hetal Parekh, 14, who lived in a Calcutta apartment building where he worked as a security guard. He was arrested in 1990 and transferred to solitary confinement after his conviction and death sentence in 1991.

Chatterjee and his family had maintained he was innocent. Last week, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam turned down Chatterjee's clemency plea, while the Supreme Court rejected another appeal Thursday.

On Saturday, wails emanated from Chatterjee's home in the village of Bankura when state-run radio announced news of the hanging. Associated Press Television News showed pictures of Chatterjee's sister crying and screaming "Mother!" as she lay prostrate in a village temple before a statue of the Hindu warrior goddess Kali.

India's last execution was in 1995, when an auto-rickshaw driver convicted in the serial murders of prostitutes was hanged in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

India's Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that the death penalty should be imposed only in "the rarest of rare cases."

Although several convicts have been sentenced to death in the past decade, none have been executed, because of appeals pending before higher courts or because they have won clemency.

Trials and appeals often take decades in India's slow-moving judicial system.