In a bizarre case, a death row convict languishing in jail for 24 years for killing seven people including two kids should not have been given death penalty as he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, according to a report filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday.
"Capital punishment can never be imposed on a juvenile," said the apex court while perusing the report it had ordered on the issue earlier this year.
The convict was arrested in 1994 and availed almost all his legal remedies right from the trial court stage to seeking the President's pardon in the past two decades. At every stage the concurrence was that he deserved the gallows.
However, it turns out that the man, as per the report of the Principal District and Sessions Judge, Pune, in pursuance of the direction of the top court, was 12 years of age at the time of the gruesome crime, but could not have been given death sentence.
Acknowledging the change in fortune of the condemned prisoner, a vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna granted seven days parole to the convict to attend the last rites of his father with the direction that the juvenility report would be scrutinised by the regular three-judge bench hearing his review plea in July.
"Prima facie there is a report of the Principal District and Sessions Judge, Pune to the effect that on August 24, 1994, the age of the petitioner/applicant... was 12 years and six months. In other words, the petitioner was a juvenile on the date of the offence alleged," said the bench.
"Capital punishment can never be imposed on a juvenile. However, the issue of whether the petitioner was a child on the date of the alleged offence has to be finally decided," it said.
Advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for the petitioner/man said that his father had passed away on May 10 and his last rites are to be held on the 12th and the 13th day from the date of his death.
"The petitioner shall be released on parole for a period of seven days to enable him to attend the last rites of his deceased father on such conditions as the concerned authorities might deem appropriate.
"The jail/police authorities shall take necessary steps to safeguard the security of the petitioner and to ensure that the petitioner does not abscond/escape by providing police escorts/guards to keep watch on the petitioner," the bench said.
The apex court had on January 29, referred the application of the man raising the claim of juvenility to the Principal District and Sessions Judge, Pune, to decide the juvenility under provisions of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.
The top court had directed the district judge, Pune to submit the report within six weeks.
The case, which has traversed up and down the ladder of judiciary for more than two decades came to be re-opened after a constitution bench in 2014 held that review of death penalty cases will be heard in open court by not less than three-judges.
On August 24, 1994, five women and two kids aged below three years were killed in a flat in Kothrud, a sub-urban town of Pune City.
Three persons were arrested on September 5, 1994, for the gruesome crime and were charged under various sections of IPC.
One of the person arrested later turned an approver in the case and based on his testimony apart from other evidences, two of them were convicted and sentenced to death on February 19, 1998, by the Pune court.
On July 22, 1999, the Bombay High Court upheld the trial court order and confirmed the death sentence.
The apex court dismissed the appeals of the two convicts in the case and upheld the death sentence on September 5, 2000.
The top court dismissed the review petitions on November 24, 2000.
In a landmark verdict on September 2, 2014, the Supreme Court held that review pleas of death row convicts will be heard in open court of hearing.
One of the convict, the petitioner moved the apex court in 2016, seeking re-opening of his review petition.
In 2018, the petitioner moved an application claiming that he was a juvenile at the time of commission of offence and cannot be awarded death sentence.
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