New Delhi, Oct. 8: Sushil Sharma, who murdered his wife for suspected infidelity and then burnt her body in a tandoor in a case that sent a wave of revulsion through the country, has been spared the gallows.
The Supreme Court today commuted to life term the death sentence the former Delhi Youth Congress leader had been handed for the 1995 murder, saying “brutality” alone didn’t justify the extreme penalty.
“As of today, the appellant has spent more than 10 years in death cell. Undoubtedly, the offence is brutal but the brutality alone would not justify death sentence in this case,” the bench said.
The bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Ranjan Gogoi also said the convict, who appeared to be “deeply in love” with his wife, didn’t have a criminal past and there was nothing to indicate that he could become a menace to society.
The court, however, made it clear that Sharma would have to remain in jail for the rest of his life, subject, of course, to remission granted by the state. Under Section 432 of the Criminal Procedure Code, states have the power to release criminals after they have completed a certain term, usually 14 years.
Sharma had murdered his wife Naina Sahni as he suspected an extramarital involvement and then, to destroy evidence, burnt her body in the tandoor of Bagia Bar-be-Que, the restaurant he ran in the capital, in the intervening hours of July 2 and 3, 1995.
A sessions court handed him death in November 2003. Delhi High Court affirmed the penalty in February 2007. Sharma then appealed in the apex court.
The top court said though the crime was brutal and grotesque, there were mitigating factors. It said Sharma loved his wife, a qualified pilot who was also the state general secretary of the Youth Congress (girls’ wing), Delhi, was “extremely possessive” about her and could not bear her continued association with a former paramour.
The bench said evidence “discloses that even on the date of (the) incident, at around 4pm”, she had contacted that person. “The appellant was deeply in love with the deceased and knowing full well that the deceased was very close to… (that person), he married her hoping that the deceased would settle down with him and lead a happy life.
“The evidence on record establishes that they were living together and were married but, unfortunately, it appears that the deceased was still in touch with (her friend)…. The evidence on record shows that the appellant suspected her fidelity and the murder was the result (of) possessiveness,” Justice Desai, writing the judgment, said.
Justifying the decision to commute the death penalty to life term, the court said: “Only where culpability of the accused has assumed depravity or where the accused is found to be an ardent criminal and (a) menace to the society; where the crime is committed in an organised manner and is gruesome, cold-blooded, heinous and atrocious; where innocent and unarmed persons are attacked and murdered without any provocation, death sentence should be awarded.
“Mere brutality of the murder or the number of persons killed or the manner in which the body is disposed of has not always persuaded this court to impose death penalty.”
The bench also said that Sharma broke down when the body was shown to him at the morgue, so it would be difficult to say he was “remorseless”.
The court said the prosecution had submitted no evidence to suggest that he could revert to such crimes in the future. “It is, therefore, not possible… to say that there is no chance of the appellant being reformed and rehabilitated.”