The Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed its own decisions and commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment of one M.A. Antony from Kerala and that of Rajendra Pralhadrao Wasnik from Maharashtra, citing socio-economic background of the Kerala man for relaxing the sentence.
The death sentence of both Antony and Wasnik were commuted to life imprisonment by the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Deepak Gupta by two separated judgments.
While in the case of Antony, the court ordered that the death sentence is “converted into a sentence of imprisonment for life”, in the case of Wasink, the court ordered that he “should not be released from custody for the rest of his normal life”.
Antony was convicted for eliminating a family of six by killing all of them on the night of January 7, 2001 in Aluva Town of Ernakulam Adistrict in Kerala.
In the case of Wasnik, he was convicted for the rape and murder of a three-year-old girl in the intervening night of March 2 and 3, 2007 in Amravati district of Maharashtra.
In both cases, they were convicted by the trial court and sentenced to death, which were upheld by the high courts and also the Supreme Court. In both cases, the review petitions, too, were rejected by the top court.
They were given a fresh hearing of their review petition in the wake of September 2, 2014 top court constitution bench observation that the hearing of a plea against death sentence would be done by a bench of three judges and there would be a limited open court hearing of the review petitions as well by a three-judge bench.
The top court by its September 2, 2014 judgment had said that in all the cases where review petitions have been rejected by the top court but death sentence has not been carried out, the convict can apply for reopening the review petition within one month from the date of decision rendered by the constitution bench.
Commuting the death sentence of Anthony to imprisonment for life, Justice Lokur said: “The socio-economic condition of the appellant (Antony) was a significant factor that ought to have been taken into consideration by the trial court as well as the high court while considering the punishment to be given to the appellant.”
While the socio-economic condition of a convict is not a factor for disproving his guilt, the court on Wednesday said: “It is a factor that must be taken into consideration for the purposes of awarding an appropriate sentence to a convict.”
Commuting the death sentence of Wasnik to imprisonment for rest of his normal life, Justice Lokur said: “We are of opinion that for the purposes of sentencing, the Sessions Judge, the high court as well as this court did not take into consideration the probability of reformation, rehabilitation and social re-integration of the appellant into society.”
“Indeed, no material or evidence was placed before the courts to arrive at any conclusion in this regard one way or the other and for whatever it is worth on the facts of this case.”
The prosecution, the court said, was “remiss in not producing the available DNA evidence and the failure to produce material evidence must lead to an adverse presumption against the prosecution and in favour of the appellant (Wasnik) for the purposes of sentencing.”