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Rediff.com  » News » I have been wrongly convicted: Vikram Buddhi

I have been wrongly convicted: Vikram Buddhi

December 11, 2009 23:00 IST

An Indiana court is expected to announce the judgment in the case involving Vikram Buddhi, a former PhD student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, on Friday.

An IIT alumnus, Vikram, 38, was found guilty for writing hate messages on his web site -- messages that called upon Iraqi people to assassinate former US president George Bush, then vice president Dick Chaney and their spouses.

Judge James T. Moody is expected to deliver the judgment at the Northern District of Indiana court in Hammond, Indiana, on Friday. The sentencing was originally scheduled for December 10, however it was postponed as Thursday was spent in Vikram representing himself in court.

Rediff.com's US daily Indian Abroad spoke to NDTV's Sarah Jacob, the only Indian journalist who visited Vikram at his prison centre on December 5.

During the 90-minute interview, Vikram told Jacob that he was already preparing to appeal the sentence, suggesting that the judgment may not be in his favour.

Jacob told India Abroad that she had met Vikram in a crowded visiting room at the Metropolitan Correctional Center -- a triangular shaped, windowless, large federal prison structure, located in downtown Chicago, where he has been for nearly three-and- a-half years.

Jacob described Vikram as a small-built man with a prison crew cut, who seemed to be lost amid the other big-bodied prison mates, several of them belonging to minority communities.

Vikram was dressed in the florescent orange prison jumpsuit, Jacob said, and was unassuming, soft spoken and appeared calm as he awaited his verdict.

Vikram had then told Jacob that he wanted to appeal on his own, as he was dissatisfied with his attorney Arlington Foley.

On Thursday, Vikram had requested the judge to fire Foley as his attorney on the grounds that the two had not discussed the details of the case. The judge asked Vikram to either represent himself or to work with Foley. Vikram chose to fire Foley.

Calls placed for Foley at his office were not returned. Foley's assistant refused to answer questions related to the case claiming attorney-client privileges. 

Foley is the second attorney to represent Vikram. 

Vikram also told Jacob that a lawyer sent by the Indian Consulate had visited him only once throughout the trial. As Vikram is an Indian citizen, his case falls under the jurisdiction of the Indian Consulate in Chicago.

Repeated calls by India Abroad to the Indian Consulate also went unanswered.

In fact, the consulate's phone system seemed to be poorly managed as the calls placed went onto the hold mode, with no response from the other end.

Earlier in a letter to Jacob, Vikram wrote: "The past three years have been an ordeal for me. I have been wrongfully convicted." 

Vikram refused to acknowledge or deny that he had written the threat messages on the web site. He refused to comment on the matter, saying it was sub judice. 

But Jacob quoted Vikram as saying: "Even if I did say so, why is it a crime? If I say something like 'sweep the floor' that doesn't necessarily mean that I will sweep the floor.  So even if I did say 'assassinate Bush' that does not mean that I am going to assassinate Bush.  You can't put me away for that."

Vikram suggested to Jacob that he was studying law textbooks to strengthen his appeal.  Since the prison library was not well stocked, he even requested her to order some books for him online.

Vikram told Jacob that he had been beaten at one point in the prison.

"His head was pushed to the wall by some guy and then he was placed in solitary confinement for his own security for three days," Jacob said, quoting Vikram.

"While the other guy was placed in solitary confinement for a month and then transferred to another floor. I asked him for more details and he just mumbled something. I didn't push it because obviously it was something he didn't want to talk about," she said. 

Life for Vikram in the prison was pretty much a routine, Jacob said.

Breakfast was served every morning at 6 am, followed by lunch at noon and then dinner at 6 pm.

Every week, Vikram goes up to the rooftop of the building for two hours -- a space equipped with a basketball court and other exercise facilities. 

"He said he goes up there to get fresh air, even when it was cold and also to see the great view of the city," Jacob said, quoting Vikram.

In India, Vikram's father Subbarao Buddhi has maintained that his son was framed.  According to reports, Subbarao had visited the US after his son was arrested in April 2006.  However, the senior Buddhi had to leave the country after he had overstayed his visa period. Reports indicate that he is now barred from entering the US for 10 years.

In the recent months, the senior Buddhi ran a public campaign in India for his son, winning the support of students of the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai. He even made attempts to meet representatives of the Indian government. 

Subbarao, a former navy captain, too had received his PhD from the IIT.
Aseem Chhabra in New York