The Supreme Court has sentenced a man to life imprisonment for committing rape of a four-year-old girl and then murdering her in 1999.
A special bench of three judges headed by justice HS Bedi commuted the death penalty that was awarded by a trial court and was later confirmed by the Gujarat high court.
The apex court, however, gave the state administration liberty to remit his sentence if it wished to do so.
Disagreeing with the concurrent findings of the subordinate courts, the bench said that the crime of the accused, Ramesh Bhai Chandu Bhai Rathore, did not fall into the rarest of the rare category. There was only circumstantial evidence against the accused, the SC said.
Dismissing Rathore's appeal against the HC verdict, the bench said, "We accordingly commute the death sentence awarded to him to life, but direct that the life sentence must extend to the full life of the appellant, but subject to any remission or commutation at the instance of the government for good and sufficient reason."
The case was referred to a larger bench after a two judge bench delivered a split verdict on February 25, 2009.
While justice Arijit Pasayat advocated death penalty, his colleague justice AK Ganguly disagreed, saying Rathore can reform.