Coimbatore child rape-murder: SC reaffirms death penalty for convict, says crime shocks conscience

Manohar Lal

New Delhi, Nov 7 (PTI) The Supreme Court Thursday reaffirmed the death penalty of a convict for 'horribly' gang-raping a 10-year-old girl and killing her along with her brother in Coimbatore in 2010 saying the is crime so grave that it shocks the conscience of the court and of society.

'It was not in the spur of the moment or a crime of passion; but craftily planned, meticulously executed and with multiple opportunities to cease and desist,' the top court said.

It rejected all grounds seeking the review of its earlier verdict and said: 'The present case is essentially one where two accused misused societal trust to hold as captive two innocent school-going children, one of whom was brutally raped and sodomised, and thereupon administered poison and finally, drowned by throwing them into a canal.' In a majority judgment of 2:1, a bench of Justice R F Nariman and Surya Kant dismissed the plea filed by the convict Manoharan and said there are no grounds to review the verdict of August 1.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna, who was third judge of the bench concurred with the conviction of the convict but differed on the question of sentence and said 'I do not see any good ground and reasons to review my observations and findings in the minority judgment'.

In the minority judgement of August 1, Justice Khanna was of the view that instead of death penalty, the jail term for the remainder of life without any benefit of remission would meet the ends of justice. 'We find that there exist no grounds to review our judgment upholding conviction and death penalty. The review petitions are accordingly dismissed,' the bench in its majority verdict said.

Manoharan had sought review of the August 1 verdict on the ground that his confessional statement could not have been accepted by the trial court as it was coerced and involuntary and that he was under severe psychological stress owing to the in-custody killing of the co-accused Mohanakrishnan on November 9, 2010.

Rejecting his contentions, the bench said: 'We are of the view that the present offence(s) of the Petitioner are so grave as to shock the conscience of this Court and of society and would without doubt amount to rarest of the rare.' The top court said that even considering that Mohanakrishnan was the mastermind whose offence was comparatively more egregious, it cannot commute the otherwise 'barbarically shocking offences of the petitioner (Manoharan)'.

Justice Surya Kant who penned down the review verdict on behalf of the bench said, 'We are also not inclined to give leeway of the lack of criminal record, considering that the current crime was not just one offence, but comprised of multiple offences over the series of many hours'.

After appreciating the evidences, the bench said that there is nothing to support the characterisation of the accused as being a helpless, illiterate young adult who is a victim of his socioeconomic circumstances.

'Far from being so, it is clear through the version of events that the accused had the presence of mind to craft his own defence and attempt to retract his confession through an elaborately written eleven page letter addressed to the Magistrate and had further received adequate legal representation,' the bench said.

It said that this Court critically analysed all the material witnesses and documents exhibited on record which were referred to during the course of arguments and a careful examination of such evidence lead to a unanimous finding of guilt against the Petitioner.

'The confession has been corroborated by enough evidence and it would not be a stretch to state that even independent of such confessional statement, this Court would nevertheless have reached a firm conclusion of guilt,' the bench said.

It said the scope of a review petition is more constrained than that of an appeal and a party cannot be allowed to reurge the case on merits to effectively seek re-appreciation of evidence when the matter has already been decided earlier, even if on different grounds. On August 1, terming the offence as 'shocking' and 'cold blooded', a three-judge bench, by a majority of 2:1, had upheld the verdicts of the trial court and the Madras High Court to award death penalty to the convict, saying the offence fell under the 'rarest of rare' category.

Manoharan and co-accused Mohanakrishnan, who was later shot dead in an encounter, had picked up the minor girl and her younger brother from outside a temple on October 29, 2010 when they were going to school.

They had tied the hands of both minor siblings and brutally gang-raped the girl before trying to kill them by poisoning.

As they did not die of poisoning, the two men tied their hands and threw them into the Parambikulam-Axhiyar Project canal where they drowned. PTI MNL ABA SA