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Oct 06, 2010 at 11:20pm IST

Mattoo case: death sentence changed to life

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of Santosh Kumar Singh in the 14-year-old Priyadarshini Mattoo rape and murder case but reduced the death sentence to life imprisonment, saying certain things were in his favour.

"The conviction is maintained," a Bench comprising Justices H S Bedi and C K Prasad said. However, the Bench said, "To our mind, certain things are in favour of the appellant (Singh). We are converting the punishment of death sentence into life imprisonment."

The apex court had on July 29 reserved its verdict on Singh's appeal. Singh, a law student in the Delhi University, had raped and murdered Priyadarshini, a third-year law student, in January 1996.

The Supreme Court judgement says: "In our opinion, the balance sheet was in favour of Santosh Kumar Singh and the ends of justice would be met if Santosh Kumar Singh's death penalty is commuted to life imprisonment."

Ashok Bhan, Mattoo's lawyer, said, "The trial court was not right in acquitting the accused. Wwe had given all proof to the HC. We are disappointed. We will see the judgement. The family will seek legal advice. We will see if curative petition can be filed. There was no mitigating circumstance in favour of the accused."

However, Justice R S Sodhi says: "If the SC says this is not the rarest of the rare case, then that's it. I felt, while delivering the justice, that this was very serious and as per the circumstances he had been troubling this girl for years. She had approached very possible police station and was ultimately given protection. Yet, he didn't care for the law; he just barged into her house, raped her and murdered her. I thought this was the limit."

"The balance sheet is how you balance the sheet. When we balanced the sheet we thought it was very heinous," added Sodhi.

National Commission for Women chairperson Girija Vyas has also expressed dispappoinment on the SC verdict. "I feel sorry and sad that death sentence has been converted to life term. It's injustice to the family who have waited for 14 years," said Vyas.

The case has been controversial right from day one. Santosh Kumar is a son of a senior IPS officer JP Singh, Joint Commissioner of Police at the time when the incident occurred in 1996. Allegations were levelled against the Delhi Police that they were trying to help Santosh following which the case was transfered to the CBI.

Singh was acquitted by the trial court on December 3, 1999, but the Delhi high court had on October 27, 2006, reversed that decision by holding him guilty of rape and murder. CBI has sought upholding of the death sentence saying the high court had correctly appreciated the evidence leading to his conviction.

The apex court judgement may now set a precedent for future cases where rape and murder convicts will now serve a life term. Also only Santosh Kumar Singh -- not the CBI and the Mattoo family -- can now file a review petition in the SC as only Singh is the aggrieved party in this case.

Chronology of events:

January 23, 1996: Priyadarshini Mattoo is allegedly raped and killed by law student Santosh Singh.

January 25, 1996: The case is handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

April 11, 1996: The central agency files chargesheet against Santosh Singh.

August 11, 1997: Trial starts in the case and the trail begins soon after. In all, as many as 50 witnesses are examined.

January 3, 1998: Fifty witnesses are examined by court.

April 18, 1998: Case is transferred to a trial court.

December 3, 1999: The trial court acquits prime accused Santosh Singh.

February 29, 2000: The CBI files an appeal in the Delhi High Court.

October 17, 2006: Santosh Singh is convicted of charges of rape and murder.

October 30, 2006:Delhi High Court sentences Santosh Singh to death. The sentence is then sent for appeal to the Supreme Court.

Watch the debate "The Role of Media Pressure in Justice Campaigns" on CNN-IBN at 9 pm on Wednesday.

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