Rape & murder of a 10-year-old & her brother: SC refuses to review it’s 2:1 verdict awarding death sentence

Supreme Court: In a ghastly case involving rape and murder of 2 children, the 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Surya Kant and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has refused to review their verdict in Manoharan v. State, (2019) 7 SCC 716, upholding  the conviction of the accused. In the said judgment, the bench had unanimously upheld the conviction, but gave 2:1 verdict on quantum of punishment.

While Nariman and Surya Kant, JJ awarded death penalty, Khanna, J did not think that this case was fit for a death penalty and hence, commuted it to imprisonment for life i.e. till convict’s natural life with a stipulation that he would not be entitled to remission under Sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  • In October 2010, accused Mohanakrishnan & Manoharan kidnapped a 10-year-old girl & her 7-year-old brother while they were preparing to leave for school.
  • The children were taken to a remote area and rape was committed on the girl.
  • Attempt was made to kill both the children by feeding them poisonous cow dung powder mixed in milk. However, the children took only a small amount of the milk and didn’t die.
  • The children were then thrown away alive in the Parambikulam-Axhiyar Project canal.
  • Both the accused were arrested but Mohanakrishnan was later shot dead in an encounter.

MITIGATING FACTORS CONSIDERED BY THE COURT IN THE REVIEW PETITION

Lack of adequate opportunity to place on record material/evidence of mitigating circumstances

After re-visiting the mitigating circumstances against aggravating circumstances, as well as a report commissioned by this Court during the course of appeal and submitted by the jail superintendent, the Court held that the conduct of the Petitioner is merely satisfactory and he has not undertaken any study or anything else to show any signs of reformation.

Backward socioeconomic circumstances

There is nothing to support the arguments that the accused is a helpless, illiterate young adult who is a victim of his socioeconomic circumstances. Far from being so, it is clear through the version of events that the accused had the presence of mind to craft his own defence and attempt to retract his confession through an elaborately written eleven page letter addressed to the Magistrate and had further received adequate legal representation.

Remorse

Accused’s advocate argued that the retraction letter shows that he stopped the co-accused from committing rape and this is evident of the fact that he has remorse which entitles him to commutation, if not acquittal. The Court, however, held that the retraction was extremely belated and only a defence to shield himself. Further, medical evidence has proved that rape was committed on the deceased girl. It is hence factually incorrect to state that the Petitioner prevented the co-accused from raping the girl and is nothing more than a belated lie at the end of the trial.

Young age and aged parents

Mere young age and presence of aged parents cannot be grounds for commutation. Such young age poses a continuous burden on the State and presents a longer risk to society, hence warranting more serious intervention by Courts.

Criminal Record

The Court refused to give leeway of the lack of criminal record, considering that the current crime was not just one offence, but comprised of multiple offences over the series of many hours.

The bench held that the present case is essentially one where two accused misused societal trust to hold as captive two innocent school-going children, one of whom was brutally raped and sodomised, and thereupon administered poison and finally, drowned by throwing them into a canal. It was not in the spur of the moment or a crime of passion; but craftily planned, meticulously executed and with multiple opportunities to cease and desist.

Nariman and Surya Kant, JJ, hence, held

“We are of the view that the present offence(s) of the Petitioner are so grave as to shock the conscience of this Court and of society and would without doubt amount to rarest of the rare.”

While Khanna, J agreed with his learned brothers on the dismissal of review petition and upholding of the conviction of the accused, on the question of sentence, he held,

“I do not see any good ground and reasons to review my observations and findings in the minority judgment.”

[Manoharan v. State, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1433, decided on 07.11.2019]

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