Staff Reporter

While one confirmed it, the other said accused ought to be imprisoned for life

BANGALORE: The Karnataka High Court on Thursday delivered a split verdict on a lower court order sentencing to death Umesh Reddy, accused in cases of murder and rape.

A Division Bench comprising Justice V.G. Sabhahit and Justice Ravi B. Naik came out with differing verdicts.

While Justice Sabhahit confirmed the criminal reference by the lower court and also the death sentence, Justice Ravi Naik said that Umesh ought to be imprisoned for life for the offences he had committed. He disagreed with Justice Sabhahit that the offence by Umesh attracted death sentence.

The State had sought confirmation of the death sentence, saying that there was strong circumstantial evidence to prove that Umesh had raped and brutally murdered Jayashree (37), a widow living in an apartment in Dasarahalli, Peenya, on February 28, 2007.

The 7th Fast Track Court, Bangalore, had on October 27, 2006, sentenced Umesh for the crime.

Awarding capital punishment to Umesh, the Fast Track Court had held that the rape and murder came under the category of the “rarest of rare” cases. The lower court had based its verdict on the evidence of Jayashree’s eight-year-old son.

Umesh is a native of Basappamalige in Hiriyur Taluk of Chitradurga district. He was initially employed as a police constable. He had studied pre-university in 1995 and was appointed a constable with the District Armed Reserve of Chitradurga in 1996.

Umesh’s criminal history started in November 1996, when he allegedly attempted to rape a girl in KEB Colony in Chitradurga. The victim identified him by chance when he was participating in a police parade, following which a case was registered against him. He was later dismissed from service.Umesh had 19 cases against him, including four in Chitradurga, four in Peenya, two each in Mico Layout and Baroda and one each in Bellary, Kunigal, Yeshwantapura, Jalahalli and Hiriyur.

Contesting the lower court verdict, Umesh said there was no conclusive proof that he was involved in the rape and murder of Jayashree. He said the prosecution case was full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies. In their judgment, the Bench said they had framed five questions on the case.

Both the judges on the Bench said the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Umesh had committed the offences.

While Justice Sabhahit said the sentence was justified and it did not call for interference, Justice Ravi Naik said the case did not fall under the category of “rarest of rare cases.” He said he agreed with Justice Sabhahit on all aspects except the sentence.

In his opinion, Justice Sabhahit said, “When the offence committed by Umesh in the present case is considered in the light of the principles laid down by the Supreme Court (in the Bachan Singh case where it laid down guidelines on confirmation of death sentence), it is clear that there is something uncommon about the crime which renders life imprisonment inadequate.”

Umesh had taken advantage of the helplessness of a woman by gaining entry into her house when she was alone and to satisfy his lust he had brutally raped her, he said.

Justice Sabhahit categorised the offence as cruel, heartless, unmerciful and barbarous. He said that each time Umesh had escaped from custody, he had repeated the offences.

Differing with Justice Sabhahit only on the sentence, Justice Ravi Naik said death was not the only solution in “rarest of rare” cases.

He said that alternatively, rigorous imprisonment for Umesh for the duration of his life (not 14 years) would be a deterrent punishment.

In the present case, the sole basis for conviction of the accused was circumstantial evidence and that it could not be compared to cases which were based on fitter sources of proof.

He said that Umesh should be in jail for life.

With the Bench delivering a split verdict, the case would now be posted to a third judge whose opinion would be final.