From The Hindu:Not death but life behind bars for Priyadarshini killer

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced to life imprisonment the death sentence awarded by the Delhi High Court to Santosh Kumar Singh, lawyer and son of a senior police officer, for the rape and murder of a college girl in 1996. The apex court held that it was not a rarest of rare cases warranting capital punishment.

Law college student Priyadarshini Mattoo, who was in her sixth and final semester, was raped and killed on January 23, 1996. The trial court acquitted Santosh Kumar Singh citing lack of evidence. On appeal, the High Court held him guilty of rape and murder and awarded him death sentence. The present appeal by Santosh Kumar Singh was directed against that judgment.

Dismissing the appeal, a Bench of Justice H. S. Bedi and Justice C. K. Prasad referred to the appellant's submissions that this was not a rarest of rare cases for award of death sentence and said: “We see that the mitigating circumstances need to be taken into account, more particularly that the High Court has reversed a judgment of acquittal based on circumstantial evidence.”

On the contention that the High Court should not have reversed the trial court's order of acquittal, the Bench said the High Court had expressed its shock and held the trial court findings as perverse and against the evidence. To desist from doing so would cause great injustice not only to the prosecution but also to the victim and her family, it added.

“Assuming that there was some uncertainty about the [charge of] rape, the culpability of the appellant for the murder is nevertheless writ large, and we are indeed surprised at the decision of the trial judge to order an outright acquittal,” the Bench said, agreeing with the High Court decision to convict the appellant.

On sentence, Justice Bedi, writing the judgment, said: “The appellant was a young man of 24 at the time of the incident, and after acquittal got married and was the father of a girl child.”

“Undoubtedly, the appellant would have had time for reflection on the events of the last 15 years, and to ponder over the predicament that he now faces, the reality that his father died a year after his conviction and the prospect of a dismal future for his young family. On the contrary, there is nothing to suggest that he would not be capable of reform. In particular, we notice the tendency of parents to be over-indulgent to their progeny, often resulting in the most horrendous of situations,” the Bench observed.

“These situations are exacerbated when an accused belongs to a category with unlimited power or pelf, or even more dangerously, a volatile and heady cocktail of the two. The reality that such a class does exist is for all to see and is evidenced by regular and alarming incidents such as the present one. Nevertheless, to our mind, the balance sheet tilts marginally in favour of the appellant, and the ends of justice would be met if the sentence awarded to him is commuted from death to life imprisonment.”

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