The Supreme Court on Wednesday saved Priyadarshini Mattoo's killer Santosh Kumar Singh from the gallows, saying he was not beyond reform.
Singh, the son of a senior police officer, had raped and strangled the 26-year-old law student at her Delhi home in January 1996.
Upholding Singh's conviction by the Delhi High Court but commuting his death sentence to life imprisonment, the apex court said: "There was nothing to suggest he would not be
capable of reform."
The court took into account the fact that Singh was just 24 years old when he committed the crime and, after initially being acquitted by a trial court, had married and had a daughter.
"To our mind, the balancesheet tilts marginally in favour of the appellant, and the ends of justice would be met if the sentence awarded to him is commuted from death to life imprisonment," the court said.
"I am relieved. I am happy and satisfied with the court's judgment," Singh is reported to have told jail officials when they informed him.
The mood was grim in the Mattoo camp.
"I am not satisfied with the sentence. This can be discussed only by legal experts as it is quite evident that even Supreme Court has upheld the verdict of the Delhi High Court," said Chaman Lal Mattoo, Priyadarshini Mattoo's father.
The Mattoo family's counsel, Ashok Bhan, said he would file a review petition for enhancement of the sentence.
Singh and Mattoo were said to be in a relationship that allegedly went awry. Mattoo had complained to the police that Singh was stalking her.
Singh's initial acquittal, fours years after the crime, had been seen as a case of the influential getting away with murder, and had triggered pubic protests.
But in October 2006, on an appeal filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Delhi High Court had convicted Singh of murder and handed him the death sentence.
Singh had then moved the Supreme Court.