Stressing that mere knowledge of a happening was not enough to convict anyone of murder, retired Delhi High Court judge RS Sodhi, who has sent many a criminal to the gallows, on Tuesday agreed to defend Moninder Singh Pandher, held guilty of rape and murder in one of the Nithari killings and sentenced to death.
"The family has approached me and I will argue the case in Allahabad High Court. The house (in Noida where the murders occurred) belongs to him and therefore he must have known (about the crime being committed). You can't hold a person guilty for murder under 120 B (criminal conspiracy) for 'must have known'. 'Must have known' does not mean he was in the know," Sodhi told IANS.
Punjab businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surendra Koli were February 13 sentenced to death for raping and killing 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar of Nithari village near here four years ago.
This was the first of 19 cases of abduction, rape and murder of four women and 15 children, mostly girls, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probed in what are collectively termed the Nithari killings.
The CBI has filed chargesheets in 16 cases. They are being heard separately and while Koli has been charged with rape, abduction and murder in all the cases, Pandher is co-accused in six.
"The fact that there is no evidence which directly links Pandher to the conspiracy may come to his aid in the high court," said Sodhi, who, as a high court judge presided over many sensational cases, including the Jessica Lall murder case, the gruesome Tandoor murder case and the Shashinath Jha murder case. He has sent many criminals, including Priyadarshini Mattoo's killer Santosh Kumar Singh, to the gallows.
"Simply suggesting that Pandher would have been in the know of the horrific crimes is not enough to invite a conviction let alone a death penalty," Sodhi said, adding, "I think if I may say so, the judge got emotionally involved. This, therefore, is not a judgement in law or one can say it is a judicial murder."
"There are no factual things on record that nail Pandher in the present case. The trial court judge totally bypassed the facts on record," Sodhi maintained.
He also stressed that the death penalty should be abolished and life imprisonment should be awarded as it is more painful to bear.
Sodhi practised in constitutional, civil, criminal, land revenue and excise matters in the Supreme Court of India for 25 years. Appointed a high court judge in 1999, he retired in 2007.