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Dhananjoy script, plus mercy

New Delhi, Aug. 18: Within a week of rejecting Dhananjoy Chatterjee’s appeal, the Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence of another rape and murder convict into life imprisonment.

Rahul Rao was awarded the death sentence for raping a four-and-a-half-year-old girl who was his neighbour and killing her by slitting her throat. He had lured the child to his house by offering her a chocolate.

A division bench of Justices K.G.Balakrishnan and A.R. Lakshmanan yesterday partially allowed the appeal of Rao, who had also sought quashing of the charges and the conviction, and overturned the death sentence.

A trial court at Pune had awarded the death penalty, ruling that the case fell in the category of “rarest of the rare cases” as the convict had perpetrated one of the most heinous crimes on a defenceless child. Bombay High Court had upheld the conviction and confirmed the death sentence.

But the Supreme Court accepted the defence argument that the accused was only 24 in 1999, when the crime was committed, and that the prosecution case was doubtful as it was based on circumstantial evidence.

One of the pleas taken by Dhananjoy, the building security guard who raped and murdered schoolgirl Hetal Parekh inside her Calcutta home in 1990, was that the prosecution case was based on circumstantial evidence.

Again, as in the Dhananjoy case, the defence counsel pleaded that the convict had no previous conviction and that should also be a basis for commuting the death sentence into a life term.

The accused had no motive to commit the offence and was under the influence of liquor, Rao’s counsel K. Radhakrishnan argued. It was not a rarest of rare case where the death penalty should be imposed, the lawyer said. There was no evidence that Rao would be a danger to the society if the penalty was not awarded, he argued.

The trial court judge who had sentenced Dhananjoy to death had drawn a parallel between his case and Indira Gandhi’s assasination because, in both cases, protectors had turned killers.

Hetal Parekh was raped and murdered after she complained to her father that the security guard was harassing her and he reported the matter to the security agency that had sent Dhananjoy. The judge was convinced the crime had been planned.

Details of today’s judgment in the Rao case were not made available although the Supreme Court usually hands out a cyclostyled copy the same day.

The state of Maharashtra fiercely opposed Rao’s plea. The counsel for the state, Mukesh Giri, contended that the crime perpetrated was the most heinous and diabolic and a civilisational crime against humanity.

He argued that the convict’s death sentence should not be altered.

The apex court had on June 26 stayed the execution and limited the question only to the award of the sentence.

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