He shall not be released from prison till he completes actual period of 25 years of imprisonment, the court held.
The Supreme Court on Friday commuted the death sentence awarded by a trial court and confirmed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh for a man accused of raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl, to life imprisonment with the further direction that he shall not be released from prison till he completes the actual period of 25 years of imprisonment.
After hearing an appeal by Tattu Lodhi @ Pancham Lodhi challenging his death penalty and other sentences awarded by the trial court and confirmed by the high court, a three-judge Bench comprising Justice Chelameswar, Justice Shiva Kirti Singh and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre passed the verdict.
He was found guilty of murdering a 7-year-old girl, kidnapping, attempting to rape her and of destroying evidence relating to the crime.
The trial court awarded punishment of death under Section 302 IPC, RI for life and a fine of Rs 1,000/- with default stipulation for offence under Section 364 IPC, RI for seven years with similar fine for offence under Section 363 IPC, RI for seven years with similar fine for offence under Section 376(2)(f)/511 IPC and RI for seven years with similar fine for offence under Section 201 IPC.
Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora initially made an attempt to challenge the conviction of the appellant itself by pointing out absence of any eyewitness of the incident and dependence of the entire prosecution case on circumstantial evidence alone.
However, counsel for the State countered the challenge to conviction by submitting that in law there is no hurdle in securing conviction purely on circumstantial evidence. But, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments.
The Bench stated that the facts of the case do not make the crime to be “rarest of rare” and hence, in such a case, the courts should not have awarded the death sentence.
It was submitted that at the time of occurrence, the accused was aged 27 years and there was no material to negate the chance of him being reformed on account of the sentence of imprisonment and gaining further maturity.
On the basis of injuries which can be associated with rape, it was submitted that no doubt it was a heinous offence as the victim was only seven years old, but there were neither any broken bones nor brutal tearing etc. to make out a case of extreme brutality.
But, counsel for the State highlighted factors such as brutality, helplessness of the victim, unprovoked and pre-meditated attack as well as societal concern in respect of a particular brutal or heinous crime. According to him, the facts of the case showed brutality, helplessness of the victim as well as unprovoked and pre-meditated design to assault.
After considering the rival submissions, the Supreme Court held that the case does not make a “rarest of rare” case so as to confirm the death sentence of the appellant.
Modifying the sentence the court held as follows:
“The occurrence is of 2011 when the appellant was said to be about 27 years old. Considering the fact that the deceased, a helpless child, fell victim of the crime of lust at the hands of the appellant and there may be probabilities of such crime being repeated in case the appellant is allowed to come out of the prison on completing usual period of imprisonment for life which is taken to be 14 years for certain purposes, we are of the view that the appellant should be inflicted with imprisonment for life with a further direction that he shall not be released from prison till he completes the actual period of 25 years of imprisonment."
Read the Judgment here.