Death penalty commuted in Priyadarshini murder, family dismayed (Roundup)

October 6th, 2010 - 4:16 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Jammu, Oct 6 (IANS) Fourteen years after the shocking murder of Delhi University student Priyadarshini Mattoo, the Supreme Court Wednesday commuted the death sentence for her killer to life imprisonment, leaving the victim’s father and friends disappointed and crying for justice.

The two-judge bench of Justice H.S. Bedi and C.K. Prasad upheld the conviction of Santosh Kumar Singh, a former police officer’s son who raped and murdered Priyadarshini. But the court set aside the death penalty handed to Singh by the Delhi High Court in 2006.

“The balance sheet is marginally in favour of the accused. His death sentence is commuted to life sentence while sustaining the conviction,” the apex court said.

Priyadarshini’s father Chaman Lal Mattoo, a retired Kashmiri chief engineer, Wednesday said he was “completely shattered” by the verdict and insisted it could set a bad precedent.

It is “the saddest day in my life as the apex court has not done justice to me or my daughter who fell victim to a spoilt brat,” Mattoo told IANS in Jammu where he lives.

He said the Supreme Court should have “sent the accused to the gallows”. “It should have been a symbolic judgement for the whole nation. The entire society will be in danger if they go on lowering such sentences.”

Mattoo hinted that he might file a review petition. “I will not leave the battle for justice for my daughter midway. I will fight the case till my last breath.”

Neelam Katara, mother of another murder victim Nitish Katara, said: “I know how it feels to lose one’s child. Life sentence in our country means freedom for the culprits, soon they are out on bail.”

Priyadarshini, a third year student in the university’s law college, had complained against Singh, a lawyer in the Tis Hazari court here, to police and her college authorities. She had said he was harassing her.

She was found dead Jan 23, 1996 in her uncle’s flat in Vasant Kunj in south Delhi. A Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court acquitted Singh in December 1999. But Oct 17, 2006, the Delhi High Court reversed the verdict and gave Singh the death sentence.

Commenting on the Supreme Court verdict, Ranjana Narayan, who was in the team of CBI lawyers that opposed Singh’s appeal, said: “I am happy the conviction has been upheld.

“The court must have taken into account all the mitigating and aggravating circumstances before commuting the death sentence to life. Factors like age of the accused, his marriage during the pendency of the case, the fact that he has a child, his father died after hearing the (earlier) news of his conviction might have mattered for the court.”

However, activists who fought for justice in the case voiced dismay. Pointing out that the crime had shaken the conscience of the nation, they asked the CBI to submit a review petition.

Aditya Raj Kaul, one such activist, said: “We thought the high court’s verdict would be upheld. The CBI must submit a review petition in the Supreme Court for death penalty. If that is not possible, then the Mattoo family will seek legal counsel.”

Harish Salve, a student who had participated in a candle light vigil for justice in the case and had kept a close watch on developments, said: “I hope Priyadarshini’s family gets justice. If need be, we will get down on the roads again to demand justice.”

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