This father was about to face the firing squad, then the power went out...

On July 29 last year, Gurdip Singh was preparing to take his final breath.

He had been anticipating this moment for years – since 2005 – when the Indian truck driver was sentenced to death by firing squad for smuggling 300 grams of heroin into Indonesia. He was one of 14 prisoners on death row preparing to die that night.

The father-of-two thought he had mere minutes left.

“They came, I said ‘let me take a shower first’,” Singh told Jewel Topsfield and Amilia Rosa at Fairfax Media.

“After I was ready, they prayed for me, the officer placed the handcuffs on one of my hands when suddenly the power went out.”

In the darkness, the prison governor walked towards him and whispered in his ear, “Singh, it is cancelled”.

Yes, a power outage at Nusakambangan, Indonesia’s penal island, saved Gurdip Singh’s life.

One year later, Singh is still alive but he has no idea how long his reprieve from the firing squad will last.

He was one of 10 who narrowly escaped the firing squad. The prisoners have never been given a reason why – and more importantly – no official stays of execution have been granted.

For now, he is in limbo.

death row escapes
Image via TIMES NOW.

"It is still not clear until now why," Singh told Fairfax. "No one told me why."

Singh is not the first death row prisoner to be granted a last minute reprieve.

In 1955, spree killer Charles Starkweather was granted a stay of execution just 90 minutes before he was set to die in the electric chair at Nebraska State Penitentiary. His family had successfully argued his court-appointed lawyers had let him down by pleading insanity rather than trying to raise doubts about his guilt.

However, just a little over a month later Starkweather was summoned to death chamber and executed.


Infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy was granted multiple stays of execution. In 1986, just six hours before he was set to be executed he managed to convince a three-judge federal appeals panel to grant him an indefinite stay. However, in 1989 Bundy was finally put to death in Florida State Prison.

In 1983, convicted double-murderer James David Autry was lying on the gurney with the needle already in his arm, when the US Supreme Court granted him a 30-day stay of execution. Autry stayed on the gurney with the needle in his arm for a further 30 minutes before he was eventually returned to his cell. He was executed by legal injection in 1984.

Indonesia is infamous for its strict death penalty policy and since the election of President Joko Widodo in 2014, 18 drug smugglers - including Australia's Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan - have faced the firing squad.

It seems unlikely that Singh will be granted any sort of permanent stay of execution. Earlier this year he pleaded for clemency from President Widodo, but his plea was rejected.

"The honourable Mr President, my life and death is at your mercy," Singh wrote in the letter.

"I beg the death penalty be changed to no matter how heavy a prison time to give me a chance to be a father to educate the children who I love."

But for now, he waits.

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