Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Gujarat High Court quashes death penalty of teen killer

HC asks trial court to verify mental condition of accused girl who killed her mother and sister two years ago

Mar 19, 2019, 06:30 AM IST

The Gujarat High Court on Monday quashed the death penalty awarded to a teenage girl, who had allegedly killed her mother and sister, and asked the trial court to first verify the girl's mental condition. The Bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and AC Rao quashed the death sentence awarded to Manju Kunvariya, a resident of Gandhidham, for the murders of her mother Rajiben and sister Aarti.

According to the FIR registered by her brother Vijay, Manju, who was 19 at the time, inflicted several blows of a sword on her mother Rajiben, and her sisters Aarti and Madhu, in the early hours of February 17, 2017. The victims were sleeping when they were attacked. Rajiben and Aarti died of the injuries, while Madhu survived. The FIR said that Rajiben had reprimanded and slapped Manju over household work a day earlier, and the assault on her and her daughters was a result of the grudge her youngest daughter bore about it. Manju was convicted for murder by the additional sessions court of Gandhidham, which awarded death sentence to her on March 15 last year. The court also sentenced her to five years' rigorous imprisonment for attempt to murder. Manju later filed an appeal in the high court challenging the trial court judgement. In its order, the high court bench said that the girl, who was just 19 at the time, had indeed behaved in a very abnormal manner. It said that going by the materials on record, the accused was prima facie a patient of schizophrenia (psychosis), but noted that the trial court had not assessed her mental condition.

The HC said that FIR by the accused's brother mentioned that her mental condition was quite unstable, and she was undergoing treatment for two years, but noted that neither the public prosecutor nor the investigating officer brought the aspect to the trial court's attention. The HC also said that if the defence counsel had read the papers, he would have got an idea that something was wrong with the mental condition of the accused. "We take notice of the fact that trial court overlooked something very important and the omission on the part of trial court has rendered the judgement and order of conviction and sentence susceptible to the complaint that the same is illegal," the HC bench said. The HC bench remitted the case to sessions court for fresh trial, and directed it to first verify the mental condition of the accused. "If the trial court is convinced that the accused is capable of making her defence, it shall resume with trial by framing charge afresh."

The high court made scathing remarks in its order about the legal aid provided to the 19-year-old accused. The HC said that the girl could not have managed to engage a seasoned trial side lawyer, and the legal aid provided by District Legal Services Authority was nothing but a farce. “This is a second matter in last 15 days which we have noticed that the legal aid being provide in just for namesake,” it said, adding, “Cross-examination of witnesses in a serious offence like murder is not child’s play. It is very unfortunate to note that in the case on hand there is practically no cross-examination,” it said, adding whether the girl was given a fair trial and effective opportunity to defend herself.

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