New Delhi, Jan. 18: The Supreme Court has commuted the capital punishment awarded to two convicts to life term in the sensational Barnali Deb rape-and-murder case.
The duo had disposed of the body of the seven-year-old girl in a septic tank after raping her at a bus shelter in Guwahati in July 2002.
A bench, headed by Justice S.B. Sinha, said the fact that the convicts had felt repentant after the crime had to be taken into account while awarding the sentence.
The other judge on the bench was Justice Markandey Katju.
The court observed that the involvement of the accused stood proved beyond reasonable doubt but added that ordinarily, death sentences should not be awarded in cases based on circumstantial evidence. Besides, repentance by one of the accused, who even confessed before a magistrate, could not be overlooked, it noted.
Bishnu Prasad Sinha and his accomplice Putul Bora had kidnapped, raped and murdered Barnali when she was sleeping at a bus shelter with her family on July 12, 2002. Sinha was the night chowkidar there.
The family was on its way to Dimapur in a bus and had put up at the shelter owned by Net Work Travels.
After the girl went missing, the manager of the transport company registered an FIR, naming the guard as one of the suspects.
The body was recovered from the septic tank on July 14. The sweeper opened it when he found the flush in the toilet was not working.
The guard and his accomplice were tried for rape and murder before a Kamrup court, which sentenced them to death. The high court confirmed capital punishment in the case.
Though the apex court found the accused guilty, it felt that a sentence for life would serve the ends of justice.
In a judgment which has wide ramifications for criminal justice in the country, the Supreme Court has held that the death sentence should not be awarded if conviction is based on circumstantial evidence.
The apex court, while commuting the death sentence, observed: “The question which remains is to what punishment should be awarded. Ordinarily, this court having regard to the nature of the defence, would not have differed with the opinion of the learned sessions judge as also the high court in this behalf, but it must be borne in mind that the appellants are convicted only on the basis of the circumstantial evidence.”