Khairlanji: Death sentence commuted to life for 6

Bombay HC has commuted death to life terms for six accused in the Khairlanji massacre case.

Last Updated: Jul 15, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Nagpur: The Bombay High Court on Wednesday
commuted the death sentence of six convicts in the infamous
Khairlanji Dalit killings case to 25 years imprisonment and
fixed a similar sentence for two others serving life term.

Justice Lavande of Nagpur bench of the court held that
all the eight convicts will undergo 25 years of life
imprisonment including the period they have already spent in
jail.
The case pertains to the brutal murder of four members
of a Dalit family -- Surekha Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, her
daughter Priyanka, sons Sudhir and Roshan -- by an angry
mob in Khairlanji village on September 29, 2006.

Justice A P Lavande pronounced the judgement while
Justice R C Chavan, who is on an assignment at the High Court
in Mumbai, joined him via video conference here.

This is for the first time that a judgement has been
pronounced by a division bench through video conference.

Pronouncing the operative part of the verdict, Justice
Lavande disposed of appeals of defence as well as prosecution.

CBI had appealed for enhancing the sentence of two
convicts, who were sentenced for life. The convicts had also
appealed against the sentence by the trial court at Bhandara.

The death sentence awarded by the trial court had come
up before the High Court for confirmation.

The bench had heard the matter on a daily basis from
March 29 and reserved it for judgement before the summer
vacation.

In view of sensitivity of the matter, a tight vigil
was maintained in and around the high court.

A trial court of S S Dass, on September 24, 2008,
awarded capital punishment to six persons. Two others were
given life imprisonment.
The six convicts whose death sentence has been
commuted to life are Sakru Binjewar, Ramu Dhande, Shatrughan
Dhande, Vishwanath Dhande, Jagdish Mandlekar and Prabhakar
Mandlekar. Gopal Binjewar and Shishupal Dhande were awarded
life imprisonment.

The CBI had also filed appeal against acquittal of all
the eight under the Prevention of Atrocities on SC/ST Act as
the victims belonged to a Dalit family from Khairlanji.

However, the High Court did not consider the CBI plea
and upheld the trial court`s judgement dropping the charges
under the Prevention of Atrocities Act.

CBI Counsel Ejaz Khan demanded enhancement of
sentence for two accused who were sentenced to life. He argued
that trial court ought to have considered evidence which
pointed out towards sexual abuse of Surekha and Priyanka.

"By dropping the atrocities charges against the
accused persons, the gravity of crime has been substantially
diluted," CBI contended.

The defence lawyers pointed out several discrepancies
and omissions in the evidence produced on record. Political
pressure and biased investigation has resulted in miscarriage
of justice, they claimed.

The defence lawyers charged the prime witness Siddarth
Gajbhiye with falsely implicating innocent villagers of
Khairlanji. Even Mukesh Pusam, another prime witness, was not
present in the village on the day of the incident, they
argued.

The accused challenged their conviction and supported
the decision of special court to drop charges under the
Prevention of Atrocities Act and also charges of sexual
abuse.

Counsel Khan represented CBI in the High Court while
Special Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam had conducted the trial
before the special court at Bhandara. Advocates Neeraj
Khandewale and Sudeep Jaiswal defended the accused in the
trial court as well in High Court.

PTI