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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of the four convicted in the gruesome December 16 Nirbhaya gang rape on Friday.
The matter was heard by the apex court bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra and consisting of Justices R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan.
The convicts - Akshay, Pawan, Vinay Sharma, and Mukesh - had challenged the Delhi High Court order which had sentenced them to the gallows.
"Victim's dying declaration is consistent; it has been proved beyond doubt and corroborated", said the apex court while confirming the trial court and Delhi High Court's findings against the accused.
"Nature and manner of the crime devastated social trust falls in 'rarest of rare' category warranting death penalty", added the three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra, which wrote two separate but concurring judgements in the case.
Soon after the verdict was pronounced, the packed courtroom of lawyers and Nirbhaya's parents clapped and expressed their satisfaction.
Earlier, the trial court also had sentenced all four convicts to the death penalty.
The apex court also said that the scientific evidence like DNA profiling of both the victim and accused proves to the hilt about their presence at the crime spot. They also held the view that the testimony of victim's friend who was with her on the bus and the first prosecution witness was impeccable and relied upon.
“If this case does not deserve a death penalty, don't know which one deserves it better,” Justice Banumathi read in her separate concurring judgment and suggested for curriculum in schools for gender sensitisation.
Saying that the accused had treated the victim as an object of enjoyment, with a single purpose of ravishing her, the court observed that their background age, no criminal record, good behaviour in prison cannot outweigh aggravating circumstances. “Human lust was allowed to take a demonic form. This act demonstrates perversion of the accused,” the bench ruled while explaining the brutality of the incident.
"Criminal conspiracy allegations stand established against the accused. We have considered mitigating factors such as aged parents, marital status, the conduct of the accused,” the court observed adding that DNA matched with the convicts and fingerprints were impeccable.
“Little did she know on that cold winter night that her world would come to a devastating end,” the bench observed while appreciating the investigation by Delhi Police and termed it as comprehensive.
“Victim's dying declaration by gestures against convicts nailed prosecution case for her attackers' death penalty,” the bench said adding there was scientific evidence to show how far the accused proceeded to establish criminal conspiracy allegations against the accused.
"A judgement like this was necessary to send a stern message to people who commit such heinous crimes," Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development Maneka Gandhi said, while reacting to the verdict.
"Aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances in the case; offence created 'tsunami of shock'," said the court.
In December 2012, six people gang raped a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern in a moving bus. The woman succumbed to her injuries in a Singapore hospital on December 29, 2012.
While Delhi Police had sought capital punishment for the convicts, the defence counsel had said they deserved leniency considering their poor family background and young age.
>>Plea of alibi by convicts an afterthought: Supreme Court
The police had told the bench that the horrific crime committed by these men warranted death penalty and the test of being a "rarest of rare" case was satisfied in this matter and the court should also consider the effect of crime committed by them on the victim and the society at large.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who has assisted the court as an amicus curiae, had told the bench that there was no doubt that the crime committed was of "immense proportion" but as the evidence was not concrete, it does not warrant a death penalty.
Senior counsel Raju Ramachandran, also an amicus curiae, had said that option of awarding jail term for the whole life to these convicts may also be considered.
Read: Union Law minister hails December 16 gangrape verdict, favours death penalty
Advocates A P Singh and M L Sharma, representing the four convicts, had said they should be given a chance to reform and considering the mitigating factors, the court should not award them death penalty. They also raised questions about the evidence collected by the police in the matter.
The trial court had awarded death penalty to the four convicts. Prime accused Ram Singh allegedly committed suicide in his cell in Tihar jail in March 2013 and proceedings against him were abated.
The high court, in its verdict, had observed that their offence fell in the rarest of the rare category and had upheld the death sentence awarded to them by the trial court.
The judicial bench also said that the criminal conspiracy of all the six accused has been established, as they made all efforts to destroy evidence like running bus over the victim and her friend.
Justice R Banumathi, one of the panelists said, " If this case isn't rarest of rare to award death penalty, then which case can fall under it."
Among the accused, there is also person who was a juvenile at the time of the crime, was convicted in August last year and will serve the maximum sentence of three years in a reform home.
(With inputs from agencies)