Charles Sobhraj, the notorious 78-year-old French murderer convicted of killing backpackers touring Asia’s “hippie trail” in the 1970s, is to be freed from prison in Nepal after serving 19 years of a murder sentence, the country’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Sobhraj had almost completed a 20-year prison sentence in Nepal, where he was convicted of the 1975 murders of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich and her Canadian companion Laurent Carriere.
The convicted killer, who some called “the Serpent” given his frequent evasions of police and use of disguises, has been accused of more than a dozen killings, but has only been found guilty of the two in Nepal.
Judges ordered Sobhraj‘s release within days on the basis of his old age, good conduct, and the length of prison term already served, according to a ruling issued by Nepal’s Supreme Court. The judges noted that the convicted murderer also suffered from heart ailments expected to require open heart surgery.
“His continuous imprisonment violates the standard human rights of the prisoners,” the court ruled, adding: “If it is not required to detain him in any other case, he should be released from the prison today and necessary arrangements should be made to send him back to his country within 15 days.”
Lokbhakta Rana, Sobhraj‘s lawyer, told The Washington Post Thursday that he commended the judges for their “very bold decision” to order his immediate release.
“I actually really did not expect it. But this is the correct decision,” Rana added. “Nobody wanted to free him. He has been tried according to the law, he has been imprisoned according to the law, and he has been released according to the law.”
Rana said he expects his client to be released from prison in Nepal within a two weeks and to return to France, where his lawyer says he holds citizenship.
Sobhraj spent 21 years imprisoned in India from 1976 after being convicted of theft. Following an escape attempt in 1986, just as his original sentence was due to end, Sobhraj was recaptured and returned to prison where he faced an extended sentence.
According to an Associated Press report from that year, Sobhraj was wanted at the time of his recapture in Nepal, Singapore, Greece, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Turkey and Iran for crimes ranging from car theft to drugging, robbing and killing young couples whom he had befriended.
The extension of Sobhraj‘s sentence due to his escape attempt meant by the time of his eventual 1997 release from prison, an extradition request from Thailand, where he was wanted for 14 murders and faced the death penalty, had expired due to a 20-year statute of limitations, an AP report noted at the time.
For reasons that remain unclear, Sobhraj then returned to Nepal, where he was wanted by police for murder. In 2003 he was spotted in a Kathmandu casino by a reporter with The Himalayan Times, arrested, and ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison.
His life has been the subject of multiple dramatizations – including “The Serpent,” a 2021 multipart drama by Netflix and the BBC.