The Supreme Court has confirmed the death penalty of a man for raping and murdering a seven-and-a-half-year-old mentally & physically challenged girl.

The Bench of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, and Justice C.T. Ravikumar observed "…the crime had been of extreme depravity, which shocks the conscience, particularly looking to the target (a seven-and-a-half-year old mentally and physically challenged girl) and then, looking to the manner of committing murder…"

The Court noted that the convict-appellant had a history of criminal cases and that he was involved in another murder while being in jail. "Read as a whole, the fact-sheet concerning the appellant leads only the logical deduction that there is no possibility that he would not relapse again in this crime if given any indulgence. A fortiori, there appears no probability of his reformation and rehabilitation," the Court held.

In this case, the victim was kidnapped by the convict on a stolen motorcycle and was raped and murdered causing injuries to her head. The prosecution case rested on circumstantial evidence and according to the prosecution, the entire chain of events was complete and was conclusive of the guilt of the appellant. On the other hand, the appellant asserted that he was falsely implicated, though he did not adduce any evidence in defence.

The Trial Court convicted the appellant of the offences under Sections 363, 365, 376(2)(f), 302 of the IPC, and Section 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) and sentenced him to death.

The sentence of death was submitted for confirmation to the High Court under Section 366 of the CrPC.

On the other hand, the accused-appellant preferred an appeal against the judgment and order of the Trial Court. Both, the reference case for confirmation of death sentence and the appeal preferred by the appellant, were considered together and the High Court, after finding that each and every incriminating circumstance had clearly been established, affirmed the conviction.

As regards the question of sentence, the High Court, with reference to the nature of offence, in the brutal rape and murder of a seven- and-a-half-year-old mentally and physically challenged girl along with the calculated attempt to cover up the crime, found the case to be 'rarest of rare case' and, accordingly, confirmed the punishments awarded to the appellant, including the sentence of death.

The conviction of the appellant and also the punishment awarded was challenged before the Supreme Court.

It was contended by the appellant that the investigation was not impartial and that the trial was conducted hurriedly. It was also argued that proper legal aid with a counsel of sufficient experience was not provided to the appellant.

He also submitted that awarding of sentence both under IPC and POCSO was not sustainable; and that the Trial Court and also the High Court had not properly examined the mitigating factors existing in favour of the appellant, including the residual doubts in the weak chain of circumstances.

On the other hand Counsel for the respondent-state argued that the forensic and medical evidence were consistent with the case of the prosecution. It was submitted that the abhorrent nature of the crime justified awarding of death sentence. It was further submitted that the subsequent conduct of the appellant in jail was questionable and that he had killed another inmate with stone for which, he was further convicted of the offence under Section 302/34 IPC.

The Court observed that the Investigating Officers of this case and other police officers had methodically discharged their duties. On the contention that the trial was conducted hurriedly, the court opined "The constitutional guarantees of equality before law, protection of life and personal liberty, protection in respect of conviction, and protection against the arrest and detention, do not expand into a corresponding right with an accused person to question the swiftness of investigation and expeditious proceedings of the trial or to suggest that he has to be tried at a pace of his choice."

The Court also noted that the legal aid counsel for the appellant left no stone unturned to defend the appellant and thoroughly cross-examined each and every witness to the minutest and minor details. And to that end held "Having examined the record, we find the criticism in this appeal against the conduct of case by the legal aid counsel to be unwarranted and rather unfair. The said counsel had indeed faithfully discharged his duties and had thoroughly defended the appellant."

The Court further observed that the doctors were clear, categorical and consistent that the victim girl died due to the injuries caused on her head.

The Court summarized the complete chain of circumstances that-

• the deceased was a seven-and-a-half-years old mentally and physically challenged girl;

• the deceased was last seen with the appellant;

• the appellant was arrested within about 7 and a half hours of the kidnap;

• the clothes worn by the appellant were bloodstained, which were seized and sealed;

• after about 1 and a half hours of his arrest, the dead body of the victim girl was recovered at a faraway place on the disclosure and information of the appellant;

• the motorcycle used by the appellant and the frock worn by the victim girl were also recovered at a faraway place at the disclosure and information of the appellant;

• the appellant failed to account for his own whereabouts as also the whereabouts of the victim girl after the time of kidnap;

• the appellant also failed to show the reason of his knowledge about the place/places where the dead body, the motorcycle, and the frock were recovered;

• as per the evidence on record, it had been a case of brutal rape and merciless killing of the victim girl;

• the victim died due to the injuries on her head;

• the DNA profile of blood collected from the person and clothing of the victim girl matched with the DNA profile of blood found on the coat, pant and shirt of the appellant and on the motorcycle.

"This chain is so complete in itself that no stretch of imagination could take us to any other hypothesis except the guilt of the appellant in relation to the offences charged. Hence, the concurrent findings of the Trial Court and the High Court holding the appellant guilty are imminently just and proper; and call for no interference whatsoever", the Court observed.

The Court further observed that the trial court had awarded death sentence only after duly hearing the accused-appellant, after duly taking into consideration the aggravating and mitigating factors, and while duly recording special reasons.

The Court noted that the appellant was 28 years of age at the time of commission of crime and was having family comprising of his wife, an eight-year-old daughter and parents. The Court further noted that he was neither shown to be coming from any affluent background nor shown if he comes from a very poor socio-economic background.

"Taken as a whole, these factors of the age, family and socio-economic background of the appellant are not so clinching as to overwhelm and override the aggravating factors," the Court held.

The Court also observed that even while in the jail appellant's conduct was not free from blemish. "…apart from quarrelling with other inmate on 17.04.2015 and earning 7 days' punishment, the appellant had been accused and convicted of the offence of yet another murder, this time of a co-inmate of the jail, while joining hands with three other inmates," the Court noted.

"In the present case, where all the elements surrounding the offence as also all the elements surrounding the offender cut across the balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, we are clearly of the view that there is absolutely no reason to commute the sentence of death to any other sentence of lesser degree," the Court held while dismissing the appeal and upholding the death sentence.

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