“The accused were poor. Being young, they had a yearning for quick money. This situation led to the nine murders”

Life imprisonment is the rule and the death penalty an exception. The death sentence must be imposed only in the gravest cases of extreme culpability, namely in the “rarest of rare” where the option of life imprisonment is “unquestionably foreclosed,” the Supreme Court reiterated on Thursday.

It commuted the death sentence awarded to four convicts for killing nine persons.

A Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh said: “There is no manner of doubt that the appellants — Santosh Manohar Chavan, Amit Ashok Shinde, Yogesh Madhukar Chavan and Mahesh Dhanaji Shinde — have committed the murder of as many as nine innocent and unsuspecting victims who were led to believe that Shinde had magical powers to multiply money.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Gogoi said: “The deceased, after being killed, were robbed of the cash amounts they had brought with them for a ‘money shower’.”

The criminal acts of the accused were actuated by a greed for money and were the result of a carefully planned scheme. The crimes were committed over nearly two months in three different episodes. The assaults on some of the victims were merciless and gruesome. Some of the victims were young and hapless children.

At the same time, the Bench said, “all the four accused were young at the time of commission of the offence, 23-29 years. They belong to the economically, socially and educationally deprived section. They were living in acute poverty. It is possible that, being young, they had a yearning for quick money and it is these circumstances that led to the commission of the crimes. Materials have been laid before this court to show that while in custody, all the accused enrolled themselves in Yashahantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University and either completed the B.A. examination or are on the verge of acquiring the degree. At least three of the appellants have, at different points of time, participated in different programmes of Gandhian thoughts and have been awarded certificates. In prison, A-2 has written a book titled Resheemganth and A-3 has been associated with the work.”

Taking into consideration the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the Bench commuted the death sentence, awarded by the trial court and confirmed by the Bombay High Court, to imprisonment for the rest of their lives subject to remissions, if any, “which will be strictly subject to the provisions of Sections 432 and 433-A of the Cr.PC.”

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