August 2, 2001
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Leniency to murderer upsets slain couple's kin

Arthur J Pais

A New York judge's order to overturn the double murder conviction of a young man, who was tried and jailed following the revelations he had made to an Alcoholic Anonymous participant, had deeply hurt the children and relatives of the slain couple.

But they are comforted by the authorities' announcement about contesting the judge's order.

Paul Cox, 33, is serving a 16 2/3 year sentence for murdering physicians Shanta Chervu and her husband Lakshman in their luxurious home in Larchmont, New York on New Year's Day in 1989.

Their throats were slit and each had been stabbed at least 10 times. Nothing was taken from the home.

For nearly four years the police were clueless about the murders. The family feared the police had given up searching for the perpetrator.

They had also wondered, from time to time, if the authorities were paying less attention to solving the crime because the victims were immigrants from India.

And then an AA participant told the authorities that Cox had said he might have killed the couple in an alcoholic blackout. Several AA participants appeared for the prosecution during the trial.

Subsequently, it was revealed that Cox, son of immigrants, had resented the Chervus because they had moved into the house his parents had owned till recently.

Cox, who was sentenced in March 1995, has served seven years of his sentence.

Judge Charles Brieant ruled on July 31 that conversation between AA participants should have the same privilege as sessions between priests and penitents.

Asserting that AA should be treated like a religious organization, Brieant said: "Clearly, it is possible as a matter of constitutional law to have and to practice a religion without having a clergyman as such or where all members exercise the office of clergyman to the extent of receiving confessions."

Members of the Chervu family who were upset that Cox had received a lighter sentence in 1995 were even more incensed after hearing Brieant's decision this week.

Cox should have been given a death sentence or at least slapped with a life sentence without parole.

"How long do we have to revisit this issue?" asked Arun Chervu, the murdered couple's son, who is also a physician. He also said the jurors had been too kind to Cox who had not shown sufficient remorse.

But members of the family said they are relieved that Brieant's decision would be appealed.

"What on earth is a federal judge stepping in seven years later for, especially on these grounds?" said David Hebert, a spokesman for Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro.

"Alcoholics Anonymous is a self-help group. It's not a religion."

Earlier Pirro had said the ruling was a 'real disappointment'.

"This is the first time I've heard in 25 years in law enforcement and on the bench that AA meetings are equivalent to a priest-penitent meeting or psychiatrist-patient discussion," she told reporters.

Cox's attorney Robert Isseks said he would expect Brieant's judgment would prevail.

The judge had also said prosecutors would violate the Constitution 'if the state is treating AA meetings with less protection than any other form of religious communication which carries assurances of confidentiality'.

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