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HC commutes rape and murder convict’s capital punishment into life sentence

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Srinagar: A division bench of the J&K and Ladakh High Court today commuted the capital punishment into life sentence for a Ladakhi man convicted of raping and murdering a woman in 2002.

Justices Ali Mohammad Magray and Mohammad Akram Chowdhary allowed the appeal of the convict and rejected the trial court reference for confirmation of the death sentence. The court commuted the capital punishment for the convict into life imprisonment.

Sonam Dorjay alias Jamwang Tashi had been convicted for the commission of offences punishable under Sections 302 (murder) and 376 (rape) RPC and sentenced to death by the Principal District & Sessions Judge, Leh.

The trial court in 2012 had held Dorjay guilty of raping one Mst Tsomo and thereafter strangulated her to death during the night of 27 and 28th of August, 2002.

The guilty had preferred not to appeal against the judgment. However, with the intervention of J&K Legal Services Authority, an appeal was filed on his behalf in 2017 against the impugned judgment.

It assailed the judgment on the ground that the appellant has been convicted on a weak evidence of circumstantial nature. It said there was no eye-witness to the crime, and that there was no attribution of direct motive behind the crime, and that the recovery of the fact of the alleged confessional statement did not relate to the commission of offence.

It argued that in the absence of a complete chain of circumstances which remained unexplained, the appellant-accused was undoubtedly entitled to the benefit of doubt. It also said that the medical evidence also did not suggest any inference towards the guilt of the appellant as the semen and the blood samples of the guilty had not been shown to the trial court.

The High Court appreciated Masooda Jan, Panel Counsel of J&K Legal Services Authority, who represented the convict. The judges said “she rendered valuable and satisfactory assistance to the court for disposal of the appeal”.

She submitted “at this stage that the appellant-convict, who has already undergone the sentence of more than 20 years, be ordered to be released having regard to the remission policy”.

T M Shamsi, the Deputy Solicitor General of India appearing for the UT of Ladakh argued that since the appellant had accepted his conviction for the commission of offences and the prosecution had succeeded to prove its case that the accused had strangulated the deceased to death after assaulting her sexually, the convict does not deserve any misplaced sympathy.

He argued that the victim was an elderly widow. “The commission of offences by the appellant against her can be dubbed as diabolical and cruel as recorded by the trial court to attract capital punishment and prayed that the sentence imposed by the trial court against the appellant-accused be maintained and confirmed,” he said.

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