Kopardi gang-rape monsters' lawyers missing from court during sentencing

Nov 30, 2017, 10:21 IST | Chaitraly Deshmukh

Three sentenced to death for the brutal torture, rape and murder of 14-year-old that sparked statewide protest by the Maratha community

More than a year after the horrific gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old in Kopardi - a crime that drove lakhs of Marathas to march across the state in protest - the three culprits were sentenced to death yesterday. The defence lawyers of all three were missing in court during the final verdict.

(From left) Main accused Jitendra Shinde, Nitin Bhailume and Santosh Bhawal
(From left) Main accused Jitendra Shinde, Nitin Bhailume and Santosh Bhawal

So savage was the crime, that it was compared to the 2012 Delhi gang rape. The accused - Santosh Bhawal, 30, Jitendra Shinde, 25, and Nitin Bhailume, 26 - raped and tortured the Std VIII student so brutally that her hair was pulled out, and her limbs and teeth broken. She was found with bite marks on her body, strangled to death. The girl was from the Maratha community, and her death sparked a massive protest across the state.

Crowd rejoices
A crowd had started building at the Ahmednagar sessions court as early as 8 am. By 11.30 am, the entire courtroom was packed, and only the defence lawyers were missing. The moment Special Judge Suvarna Kewale declared capital punishment for the accused, the entire court rejoiced, and Marathas raised the slogan, "Ek Maratha, Lakh Maratha."

Also read: CM Devendra Fadnavis meets Kopardi rape victim's family 

The accused were in tears, and Shinde collapsed on hearing the sentence. He was the one who had accosted the victim, dragged her to an isolated spot and raped her, before calling the co-accused to join him. When the courtroom was vacated, the trio pled for lesser punishment. Later in the evening, they were taken to Yerwada Central Prison, where they will be held in the Anda Barrack. On Thursday, they will be given their convict ID numbers and uniform.

Mother says
The victim's mother said, "My chakuli's (doll) soul can finally rest in peace. I pray that the accused are put to death soon. This judgement is dedicated to all women, and the entire community that supported me. The government, police, various communities came together to show this was not just my battle; they all considered my daughter as their own. I had faith in the judiciary and in the Chief Minister."

According to the 156-page judgment copy, main accused Shinde was sentenced to death for IPC Sections 302 (murder) read with 120-B (criminal conspiracy). His accomplices Bhaval and Bhailume were awarded death for Section 120B (criminal conspiracy), read with 302 and 109 (abetment).

Rare sentencing
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said, "This is a rare case where court has awarded capital punishment to those guilty of abetment and conspiracy. In this case, I relied on the judgement in Indira Gandhi's Assassination in Kehar Singh vs State of Punjab."

The death sentences are subject to confirmation by the Bombay High Court, the judge said. The convicts further received life sentences for rape and criminal conspiracy, along with three years of rigorous jail under Section 354A (sexual harassment). Judge Kewale also levied a Rs 18,000 penalty, and ordered that the mobile phone and vehicle used for the offence must be auctioned and such amount be kept with the Revenue Department.

A new record
This is the first case to have an audio recording of the entire proceeding.

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