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



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

"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 court."

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 upheld.

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 said.

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 him.

"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.

PTI