Had he not got married after his acquittal by the trial court in the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case in 1999, Santosh Kumar Singh would perhaps have faced the gallows.
The Supreme Court (SC), that commuted his death penalty to life sentence, considered it a major mitigating circumstance in his favour, besides the birth of a girl child from the marriage, his young age at the time of the incident and the death of his father after the High Court (HC) verdict.
The SC also took into account the fact that the HC reversed a judgment of acquittal based on circumstantial evidence.
A bench headed by Justice H.S. Bedi held that the case did not fall in the category of “the rarest of the rare”.
It said: “…where the option is between a life sentence and a death sentence, the options are indeed extremely limited and if the court itself feels some difficulty in awarding one or the other, it is only appropriate that the lesser sentence should be awarded. This is the underlying philosophy behind ‘the rarest of the rare’ principle.”
Reducing the sentence, the SC said: “Undoubtedly, also the appellant would have had time for reflection over the events of the last fifteen years, and to ponder over the predicament that he now faces, the reality that his father died a year after his conviction and the prospect of a dismal future for his young family. On the contrary, there is nothing to suggest that he would not be capable of reform.”
Note of Caution
The bench, however, said there were extremely aggravating circumstances as well.
“In particular, we notice the tendency of parents to be over-indulgent to their progeny, often resulting in the most horrendous of situations. These situations are exacerbated when an accused belongs to a category with unlimited power or pelf or even more dangerously, a volatile and heady cocktail of the two. The reality that such a class does exist is for all to see and is evidenced by regular and alarming incidents such as the present one,” the bench said.
Why no defence evidence?
The SC, however, expressed surprise that the accused, despite being a lawyer himself and his father, a very senior police officer, did not produce any evidence in his support to create doubts about the veracity of certain documents submitted to the court by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as evidence against him.