Thursday, January 27, 2011

Similar crime, varying verdicts in apex court - Despite Precedent, Spares Rapist-Killer Noose

New Delhi: The Supreme Court overcame a precedent in Dhananjoy Chatterjee, an apartment security guard sentenced to death for raping and killing a school girl, to reject capital punishment for a Gujarat watchman convicted in an identical case. 
   In 1994, the court had awarded the death penalty to Chatterjee, a 27-year-old married man, for the rape and murder of 18-year-old Hetal Parekh in her flat when her parents were away. The court rejected his mercy plea 10 years later and he was hanged in 2004.
   Employed as a watchman at Sanudip Apartments in Surat, 28-year-old Ramesh Bhai Chandubhai Rathod was also married when he raped and murdered a 10-year-old class IV school girl when her parents were away on December 17, 1999. His conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court.
   But, on punishment—life or death sentence—a bench of two judges was split. The issue was placed before a three-judge bench, which on Monday decided against death penalt and Rathod was given lifeand ordered that Rathod be lodged in jail for the rest of his life.
   Was Rathod’s case any different than Chatterjee’s? If it was not and the crime appeared to be more brutal than the Kolkata one, why the difference in the sentence?
   The bench of Justices H S Bedi, P Sathasivam and Chandramauli Kumar Prasad considered these questions and said: “We notice that there is a very thin line on facts which separates the award of a capital sentence from a life sentence in the case of rape and murder of a young child by a young man and the subjective opinion of individual judges as to the morality, efficacy or otherwise of a death sentence cannot entirely be ruled out.”
   On Rathod’s sentence, the bench said: “We commute the death sentence awarded to him to life but direct that the life sentence must extend to the full life of the appellant subject to any remission or commutation at the instance of the government for good and sufficient reasons.”

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