New Delhi: Govindachamy, convicted in the sensational case of Soumya in Kerala, escaped death penalty Thursday as the Supreme Court dropped murder charge against him and upheld life imprisonment for raping the 23-year-old sales representative.
The verdict came as shock for the victim's family which dubbed it as 'heartbreaking' and expressed anguish over the 'failure' of the state prosecutor to 'properly' present the case in apex court.
In the 22-page verdict, the apex court discharged Govindachamy under section 302 (murder) of IPC, in which the maximum sentence is capital punishment, saying there was no intention on his part to kill the victim but only to sexually assault her by keeping her in a supine position.
The court said the 'brutal' and 'grotesque' manner in which the victim was assaulted before rape after she had fallen out of a slow-moving train at a lonely place before the station, warrants retainment of life sentence awarded by the trial court which was confirmed by the Kerala High Court.
While dropping section 302 of IPC, a bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi, Prafulla C. Pant and Uday Umesh held him guilty for the offense of causing grievous hurt under section 325 of the IPC and awarded seven years rigorous imprisonment which will run concurrently with the life sentence awarded to him.
Govt to seek review of verdict
While Soumya's mother Sumathi said she would not give up her fight to get justice for her daughter and file a revision petition, the state government also said it would seek review of the verdict commuting death sentence of Govindachamy for the February 1, 2011 criminal assault, saying it was 'not a just punishment'.
In its verdict, the apex court said, "The fact that the deceased survived for a couple of days after the incident and eventually died in hospital would also clearly militate against any intention of accused (Govindachamy) to cause death by the act of keeping the deceased in a supine position."
"Similarly, in keeping the deceased in a supine position, intention to cause death or knowledge that such act may cause death, cannot be attributed to the accused. We are, accordingly, of the view that the offense under Section 302 IPC cannot be held to be made out against the accused so as to make him liable therefore.
"Rather, we are of the view that the acts of assault etc attributable to the accused would more appropriately attract the offense under Section 325 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt) of IPC. We accordingly find the accused guilty of the said offense and sentence him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for seven years for commission of the same," it said.
CM Pinarayi to meet Soumya's mother
Meanwhile, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said that he understood the emotional state of Soumya's mother and that he would personally meet her.
"The government will immediately file a review petition against SC verdict. We will seek advise from all the legal experts," the CM added.
Reacting to the SC order, Kerala law minister A.K. Balan said that the state government will file a review petition.
Shocking murder of 2011
A division bench of the Kerala High Court, had on December 17, 2013, confirmed the death sentence awarded by the Thrissur fast track court to Govindachamy from Virudanagar in Tamil Nadu, the lone convict in the Soumya murder case.
According to the prosecution, the incident took place when Soumya, an employee of a Kochi shopping mall, was traveling in a ladies coach on the Ernakulam-Shoranur passenger train on February 1, 2011 and was attacked and pushed off from the slow-moving train by Govindachamy who has only one hand.
It had also said the man jumped off the train, carried the injured woman to a wooded area near the track at Vallathol Nagar and raped her.
The women's compartment did not have any police guard when the crime took place.
Later, she was found in an unconscious state near the track at Vettikkattiri near Cheruthururthy at 9.30 pm, after a guard informed the Railway Police about seeing saw someone falling off a moving train.
She succumbed to injuries at the Government Medical College Hospital, Thrissur, on February 6, 2011.
The prosecution had also pointed out that Govindachamy had already been convicted in eight cases in his native state.
The fast track court, in 2012, awarded death sentence to the accused, considering him as a habitual offender and held that the brutal rape was one of the reasons for the victim's death and that the nature of the crime was savage and had shocked the society.
The High Court had upheld the death sentence two years later, against which he moved the Supreme Court.
Recently, the top court slammed the prosecution for not presenting enough evidence against Govindachamy. The court had said and added that there was no place for guesswork in the court.
The top court had also asked for evidence to prove the charge that Govindachamy pushed Soumya off the train to the railway tracks. However, the prosecution failed to give a satisfactory explanation to the court.
Govindachamy's stance at the court was that he has no connection with the incident and that he was trapped in the case.
(With agency inputs)