New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of Santosh Kumar Singh in the 14-year-old Priyadarshini Mattoo rape and murder case but reduced the death sentence to life imprisonment, saying certain things were in his favour.
“We are shattered and dismayed,” said CL Mattoo, Priyadarshini’s father, to Agence India Press. “We had expected better treatment from the courts.”
Priyadarshini was strangled at her home in Vasant Kunj in Delhi in January 1996. Santosh Singh was her senior at college.
“The conviction is maintained,” a Bench comprising Justices H S Bedi and C K Prasad said. However, the Bench said “To our mind, certain things are in favour of appellant (Singh). We are converting the punishment of death sentence into the life imprisonment.”
Singh, son of former senior IPS officer, had challenged his conviction and death sentence awarded by the Delhi High Court which had set aside his acquittal by the trial court in the case.
In October 2006, the Delhi High Court found Santosh Singh, guilty of rape and murder and sentenced him to death. Singh, who worked as a lawyer till he was imprisoned, appealed against that sentence. “For a murder so grotesque and brutal, the convict deserves nothing less than the death penalty,” the High Court had said. Experts said its decision was based on a combination of forensic and circumstantial evidence.
That verdict reversed an earlier decision by a lower court in Delhi which had acquitted Singh. At that time, the judge had stressed that a malnourished investigation by the Delhi Police meant that though he knew Singh” is the man who committed the crime,” he was forced to acquit him.
The Supreme Court said today, “To our mind, certain things are in favour of appellant (Singh). We are converting the punishment of death sentence into the life imprisonment.”
In 1995, a year before she died, Priyadarshini had complained that Santosh Singh was stalking her. On January 23 in 1996, Singh was seen trying to enter the Vasant Kunj flat where Priyadarshini lived. She was found dead by her domestic help. She had been raped, strangled with an electric wire, and her face had been battered with a motorcycle helmet. Singh’s helmet was found shattered – this later formed part of the evidence against him.
Critical DNA tests that linked Singh to the rape and murder were rejected by the trial court and then later accepted by the Delhi High Court. Both courts had agreed that the police were reluctant to follow up on Priyadarshini’s complaints against Singh because his father was a senior police officer.
The High Court slammed the police, stating that the rule of law “is not meant for those who enforce the law or for their near relatives”.