Pune: A fast-track court on Tuesday pronounced the death sentence for three prime accused in the gang-rape and murder case of a 28-year-old software engineer in October 2009.
Special Judge LL Yenkar, who on Monday convicted Yogesh Ashok Raut, Mahesh Balasaheb Thakur and Vishwas Hindurao Kadam for kidnapping robbing, gang-raping and then killing Nayana Phatak-Pujari, sentenced them to death after a hectic day full of arguments between the prosecution and defence lawyers.
Special Public Prosecutor Harshad Nimbalkar forcefully argued for the death penalty against the convicts, terming it as "the rarest of rare cases" and the brutality of the crime against the victim.
He said that the prosecution managed to establish the complete chain of circumstances that led to the serious crime and said they deserved "the maximum punishment" under the laws.
"Considering the brutal manner in which the victim was gang-raped and then killed, this falls under the category of rarest of rare case," he said after the conviction.
Another co-accused, Rajesh Pandurang Choudhari, who was arrested as an accomplice by the police, later turned an approver and was granted a pardon.
The victim`s husband Abhijit Pujari, and sisters Manisha G and Madhuri J had demanded the death penalty for the accused, and expressed their satisfaction over the verdict.
The three accused were on Monday convicted of committing seven counts of various offences including those of kidnapping, gang-rape, murder, robbery, misappropriation of property after hatching a criminal conspiracy in accordance with their common intention.
The trio, however, were acquitted of three other charges including those of abduction with an aim to commit murder, causing hurt while committing the robbery and the destruction of evidence as the prosecution failed to prove these charges.
Pujari, who worked at an IT firm in Kharadi was kidnapped on October 07, 2009 evening from Kharadi bypass, while waiting for a transport to return home.
Her body was recovered two days later from Zarewadi forest area in Khed tehsil of Pune district.
The prosecution told the court that the investigation revealed that the victim was kidnapped and later gang-raped in a car. The woman was also robbed of her cash, withdrawn from the ATM using her debit-cum-ATM card, before having been strangulated with her scarf and bludgeoned to death in the forest.
The investigation led to the arrest of four persons - Yogesh Raut, Mahesh Thakur and Vishwas Kadam and Rajesh Chaudhari.
Earlier during the trial, prime accused Raut had escaped from the Sassoon General Hospital on September 17, 2011, while being escorted to the hospital for treatment. He was, however, arrested from Shirdi in May 2013 after the shocking case of Nirbhaya gang-rape case in New Delhi.
Advocate Harshad Nimbalkar, who was appointed as the special public prosecutor in the case, said Chaudhari, who turned approver in the case, has been let off by the court.
Nimbalkar said that the trial, which lasted for six years, saw four judges adjudicating the case.
In his statement, accused-turned-approver Chaudhari said he was threatened by Raut, Thakur and Kadam that they planned to eliminate the victim and he should keep his mouth shut about it.
Arrested on October 16, 2009, Chaudhari claimed that he was extremely remorseful about the incident but was equally scared over the death threats issued by the accused. However, he later mustered courage and agreed to turn an approver in the case.
He revealed how, after gang-raping her, the trio snatched her ATM debit card and forced her to reveal the PIN number, with Kadam pointing a knife at her.
Later, Kadam and Thakur left on a motorcycle and withdrew the money from her ICICI Bank account, but did not inform Chaudhari.
It also emerged during the investigations by the police that Raut had raped and murdered a 22-year old woman vegetable vendor in Pune a few months before this crime.
The brutal rape and murder of Nayana Pujari had created a scare among Puneites, especially those working in late-night shifts in the IT sector and resulted in enhanced security measures both by the companies and police.
(With Agency inputs)