Mattoo case: SC commutes Santosh`s death penalty to life

The SC commuted the death sentence of Santosh Kumar Singh, in the Mattoo rape and murder case.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court today
commuted the death sentence of Santosh Kumar Singh, son of
former IPS officer, in the sensational Priyadarshini Mattoo
rape and murder case taking into account some "mitigating
factors", a decision that triggered strong reaction from the
victim`s family and her friends.

Ruling out that it was a rarest of rare case,
a two-member bench took note of the fact that Singh belongs
to a category with "unlimited power or pelf or even more
dangerously, a volatile and heady cocktail of the two" but
felt the "balance sheet tilts marginally in favour of the

"To our mind, certain things are in favour of
appellant (Singh). We are converting the punishment of death
sentence into life imprisonment," the Bench said delivering
the judgement in a jam-packed courtroom on the case that had
shocked the capital 14 years ago.

The Bench comprising Justices H S Bedi and C K Prasad
said the mitigating factors in the convict`s favour were his
act of marrying after the lower court had acquitted him in the
case, his father`s death after his conviction by the High
Court, his becoming father of a girl child and the prospect of
a dismal future for his young family.

However, it dismissed his appeal against the Delhi
High Court verdict holding him guilty of raping and murdering
25-year-old law student at her south Delhi residence and ruled
that "the conviction is maintained".

Mattoo, a third year law student, was raped and
murdered by Singh, who was then 24 and her senior in the
college, at her South Delhi residence in 1996.

Chaman Lal Mattoo, the father of the girl, expressed
dismay over the apex court judgement. "I am not satisfied
with the sentence. This can be discussed only by legal
experts as it is quite evident that even the Supreme Court has
upheld the verdict of the Delhi High Court."

"There were various instances where the convicts had
managed to come out," he said, adding "this is the danger. The
case has not been meted the right treatment by the apex

The counsel appearing for the family said, "he was not
not an ordinary criminal and therefore it was a rarest of the
rare case."

However, the CBI counsel said the agency was
"satisfied" that the High Court verdict of conviction has been

Priyadarshini`s friends also were not happy with
the judgement commuting the death sentence. "While we are
happy with the upholding of the conviction, we are unhappy at
the fact that the sentence has been reduced to life," they

In its 96-page judgement, the Bench said "where the
option is between a life sentence and a death sentence, the
options are indeed extremely limited and if the court itself
feels some difficulty in awarding one or the other, it is only
appropriate that the lesser sentence should be awarded".

"This is the underlying philosophy behind ?the rarest
of the rare? principle," the Bench said and considered the
mitigating circumstances for awarding the life sentence to
Singh, who was married after the trial court had acquitted

"We see that the mitigating circumstances need to be
taken into account, more particularly that the High Court has
reversed a judgement of acquittal based on circumstantial
evidence, the appellant (Singh) was a young man of 24 at the
time of the incident and, after acquittal, had got married and
was the father of a girl child.

"Undoubtedly, also the appellant would have
had time for reflection over the events of the last fifteen
years, and to ponder over the predicament that he now
faces, the reality that his father died a year after his
conviction and the prospect of a dismal future for his
young family.

"On the contrary, there is nothing to suggest that he
would not be capable of reform," Justice writing the judgement
for the Bench said.

The Bench also noted that influential parents over-
indulge themselves in helping their children which results in
aggravating circumstances.

"There are extremely aggravating circumstances as
well. In particular we notice the tendency of parents to be
over indulgent to their progeny often resulting in the most
horrendous of situations.

"These situations are exacerbated when an accused
belongs to a category with unlimited power or pelf or even
more dangerously, a volatile and heady cocktail of the two.
The reality that such a class does exist is for all to see
and is evidenced by regular and alarming incidents
such as the present one," the Bench observed.

"Nevertheless, to our mind, the balance sheet tilts
marginally in favour of the appellant, and the ends of justice
would be met if the sentence awarded to him is commuted from
death to life imprisonment under Section 302 of the IPC,
the other part of the sentence being retained as it is," the
Bench said.

Singh, a law graduate, had challenged his conviction
and death sentence awarded by the Delhi High Court which had
set aside his acquittal by the trial court in the case.

Dismissing his plea, the apex court said that "We see
from the record that there is very substantial evidence with
regard to the allegations of murder".

"Right from the year 1994 to January 1996, that is a
few days before the murder, the appellant had been
continuously harassing the deceased and that this allegation
has been proved by ocular and documentary evidence".

"We also see that the appellant had been seen in the
Faculty of Law, University of Delhi on the morning of the
incident and had no business to be present at that place as he
had passed out in the year 1994," the court said.

The court also relied on the findings of the DNA test
which went against Singh.

"We must emphasise that the Court cannot
substitute its own opinion for that of an expert, more
particularly in a science such as DNA profiling which
is a recent development," the court said.

"The two scientists gave very comprehensive statements
supported by documents that the DNA of the semen stains on the
swabs and slides and the underwear of the deceased and the
blood samples of the appellant was from a single source and
that source was the appellant(Singh)," the court said.

The court dismissed the trial court verdict which had
questioned the accuracy of DNA test.

"The trial court has referred to a large number of
text books and has given adverse findings on the accuracy of
the tests carried out in the present case.

"We are unable to accept these conclusions as the
court has substituted its own opinion ignoring the complexity
of the issue on a highly technical subject, more particularly
as the questions raised by the court had not been put to the
expert witnesses," the court said.