New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the death sentence of a Kerala man accused of rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in 2011, exonerating him of murder charges but said he would undergo life imprisonment for rape.
Govindaswamy had been convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court, and the sentence was confirmed by the Kerala High Court.
The apex court on Thursday set aside the death sentence for murder but upheld conviction and sentencing for rape and other charges.
Govindaswamy had raped and murdered the victim when she was travelling by train from Ernakulam to Shornur on February 1, 2011, to attend her betrothal ceremony the following day.
Govindaswamy first tried to rob her in a deserted ladies compartment, and when she resisted he assaulted her and threw her out of the moving train. He alighted from the train and brutally raped the unconscious and badly injured victim. The crime took place between Vallathol Nagar Railway Station and Shornur. She died a few days later.
“The sentence of death for commission of offence under Section 302 IPC is set aside …,” said the bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Prafulla C. Pant and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit while upholding the conviction of Govindaswamy for rape under Section 376 (Punishment for rape) IPC.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, “We are of the view that not only the offence under Section 376 IPC was committed by the accused, the same was so committed in a most brutal and grotesque manner which would justify the imposition of life sentence as awarded by the learned trial court and confirmed by the High Court.”
Upholding Govindaswamy’s conviction and sentencing for rape, the bench in its judgment said, “So far as the offence under Section 376 IPC is concerned, from a consideration of the post-mortem report, DNA Profile and the evidence of (prosecution witnesses) there can be no manner of doubt that it is the accused… who had committed the said offence.”
“The DNA profile… clinches the issue and makes the liability of the accused explicit, leaving no scope for any doubt or debate in the matter,” the bench said.
On the question whether the man was responsible for injury caused by the fall of the woman from the moving train, the court said, unless the fall can be attributed to Govindaswamy based on “cogent and reliable evidence” the “liability of the accused for the said injury may not necessary follow”.
The court said what has also to be ruled out is the possibility of the deceased herself jumping out of the train.
Discussing the evidence, the judgment said, “The fact that the deceased survived for a couple of days after the incident and eventually died in hospital would also clearly militate against any intention of the accused to cause death by the act of keeping the deceased in a supine position.”
Holding that Govindaswamy could not be held liable for the injury caused by the fall of the victim, the judgment said, “We are…of the view that the offence under Section 302 IPC cannot be held to be made out against the accused so as to make him liable therefore. Rather, we are of the view that the acts of assault, etc. attributable to the accused would more appropriately attract the offence under Section 325 IPC (Punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt).”
While setting aside the conviction for murder under Section 302 IPC, the court altered it with Section 325 (Punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt) of IPC.
The top court has maintained the conviction of Govindaswamy under Section 376 (Punishment for rape), Section 394 (Voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery) read with Section 397 (Robbery, or dacoity, with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt), and Section 447 (Punishment for criminal trespass) of IPC.
All the sentences imposed shall run concurrently, the bench said.