Friday, February 6, 2015

Hope for death-row convict

Thursday , November 13 , 2014 | OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT 
New Delhi, Nov. 12: The Supreme Court today decided to examine if the sentence of a death-row convict who killed five persons could be commuted to life after he claimed he was only 18 years and two months old at the time of the November 2004 murders. Sonu Sardar and four others had entered the home of a Chhattisgarh scrap-dealer, snatched Rs 1.75 lakh in cash and killed him, his wife, two small children and their driver. A 10-year-old daughter fled to a neighbour’s house and a three-year-old boy and six-month-old girl escaped unharmed.

The apex court’s decision is bound to raise eyebrows as there has been a clamour — since the December 2012 gang rape of a paramedical student — to try under the adult criminal law minors above 16 who are accused of heinous crimes. All accused aged below 18 are now tried under the Juvenile Justice Act, which provides for a maximum punishment of three years in a reformation home.

A bench of Justices A.R. Dave, J. Chelameshwar and U.U. Lalit said apart from considering Sardar’s claim of being young at the time of the crime, there was need to examine if the fatal blows to the victims were delivered only by him or the others as well. It then asked the state to file its response to this. On November 26, 2004, the five had entered the house of Shamim Akhtar in Cher village in Chhattisgarh’s Baikunthpur district and killed him, wife Ruksana Bibi, son Yakub (8), daughter Kumari Rana (4) and driver Asghar Ali.

Orphaned were three other children: daughter Shabana Khatun, who fled to a neighbour’s house, and Yakut and Asna, who were not harmed. Only Sardar has been convicted of murder as the whereabouts of the three others are not known till date. The fifth offender was tried as a juvenile and freed after a 3-year reformation period. In 2008, the sessions court at Bilaspur sentenced Sardar to death. In 2010, Chhattisgarh High Court confirmed the order.

Sardar then moved the top court, which dismissed his appeal in February 2012. The President rejected his mercy plea in May this year. During the review petition hearing today, senior counsel Raju Ramachandran said Sardar was only a little over 18 at the time of the murders. Moreover, his conviction was based on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a 10-year-old child witness, so his sentence should be commuted to a life term. However, the state’s counsel, Atul Jha, opposed any leniency, saying the murders were committed in the most brutal manner and three children had been orphaned by the attack.

Jha said the trial court had rightly relied on the following factors for awarding death penalty:
  • The crime was pre-meditated;
  • The crime has struck fear and terror in the public mind;
  • The victims were helpless and defenceless, including two minors;
  • Even Asgar Ali, the driver who had dropped by for his food, was not spared;
  • Sardar took advantage of earlier business relations with Shamim, made a friendly entry and committed the murders;
  • The intention was to kill all members of the family, although surprisingly a six-month-old baby and a three-year-old child remained alive;
  • The five murders were brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting and dastardly, which indicated the criminality of the perpetrators of the crime;
  • No physical or financial harm appears to have been caused by the deceased to the accused.
The bench fixed January 20 as date of the next hearing.

Source: [last accessed 06.02.2015] 

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