The Supreme Court on Thursday commuted the death sentence of Govindachamy, a convict in the brutal rape and murder case of 23-year-old Soumya, while upholding the life sentence after dropping the murder charge against him.
A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, P.C. Pant and U.U. Lalit, however, upheld charges under IPC section 376 (Punishment for rape), 394 (Voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery), 325 (Punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt).
A division bench of the Kerala High Court had, on December 17, 2013, confirmed the death sentence awarded by the Thrissur fast track court to Govindachamy from Virudhachalam in Tamil Nadu, the lone convict in the Soumya murder case.
According to the prosecution, the incident took place when Soumya, an employee of a Kochi shopping mall, was travelling in an empty ladies' compartment of the Ernakulam-Shoranur passenger train on February 1, 2011. She was assaulted and pushed off from the train by Govindachamy.
It had also said the man jumped off the train, carried the injured woman to a wooded area near the track at Vallathol Nagar and raped her.
She succumbed to injuries at the Government Medical College Hospital, Thrissur, on February 6, 2011.
The prosecution had also pointed out that Govindachamy had already been convicted in eight cases in his native state.
The fast track court, in 2012, had awarded death sentence to the accused, considering him as a habitual offender and held that the brutal rape was one of the reasons for the victim's death and that the nature of the crime was savage and had shocked the society.
The High Court had upheld the death sentence two years later, against which the accused moved the Supreme Court.
However, in 2016 September, the Supreme Court questioned the lack of evidence in the prosecution arguments to prove that the accused was guilty of murder. “How can it be proven that Soumya was pushed out of the train by Govindachamy,” the court questioned. The statements had sparked a fiery debate in the state over the incumbent LDF government's handling of the case, with Soumya's mother Sumathi expressing deep anguish over the concerns voiced by the court.
In a Facebook post, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the public prosecutor was tongue tied in the Supreme Court because of the lax treatment accorded to the case by the ruling LDF. “They did not even know the date in which the case was posted for hearing in the Supreme Court,” he noted in his post.
“Since the Supreme Court could did not find the accused guilty for murder (IPC 302), this would be the quantum of punishment,” Adv C.P. Udayabhanu told THE WEEK.
“The entire state wanted a death sentence for the accused Govindachamy. In this case, the defect lies with the prosecution and the investigating agency. Even the minutiae of the case would come under the scrutiny of the apex court,” said Adv P.S. Sreedharan Pillai.
(With PTI inputs)