Senior advocates Raju Ramachandran and Sanjay Hegde have a difficult task cut out for them — to defend the four death row convicts who sexually assaulted a 23-year-old paramedic and killed her on the night of December 16, 2012.
Ramachandran and Hegde were not hired by the convicts, but the SC bench led by justice Dipak Misra appointed them as “friends of the court” to “interpret the police evidence” and render assistance. The appointment order came on April 8. Since then the bench has held hearings every Monday and Friday for two hours in post-lunch sessions.
The top court is hearing appeals of Mukesh, 24, Pawan, 20, Vinay, 22 and Akshay, 29, challenging the punishment handed down by the trial court and confirmed by the Delhi high court.
After a scrutiny of the evidence and the procedure followed in the trial court, both have pointed to the gaps in the prosecution version. Hegde presented his case on the merits. From his reading of the call detail records, he submitted that the entire incident occurred in a time span of 21 minutes. The police accused all six, including the juvenile, of raping the girl and murdering her.
But, according to Hegde physical evidence of rape existed against the two, of which one, Ram Singh, is dead. He doubted the prosecution theory that there was a conspiracy hatched to murder the girl. Death occurred because of the iron rod used in assault, he said.
“I performed a lawyer’s job,” Hegde said, when asked if he had inhibitions accepting the assignment, given the public outcry over the incident. “When the victim’s mother met me, I explained to her that the court wanted assistance in interpreting the evidence to ascertain whether there is proof beyond reasonable doubt in the case and if it falls in the rarest of the rate category to warrant death sentence,” Hegde said, admitting he did not succeed in convincing the family members about his role in the case.
For Ramachandran, a known anti-death penalty activist, the case was one in many. He did not hesitate in taking up the job and put in his best. “A lawyer should never say no to a case,” he said.
Ramachandran argued on the point of sentence, contending the convicts were young and had no criminal antecedents. The crime was not pre-meditated and this was a mitigating factor in their favour.
According to him, the convicts should be given a chance to reform, which both the trial court and HC ruled out on the ground that the crime was brutal.