The Madras High Court Bench here on Friday set aside the conviction and death sentence imposed on an individual accused of raping and murdering a 10-year-old school girl after it was proved that he was only 17 years old at the time of committing the offence in October 2006.

Holding that he ought not to have been tried by a regular Sessions Court, a Division Bench of Justice M. Jaichandren and Justice S. Nagamuthu remitted the case to the Juvenile Justice Board here for a fresh trial in accordance with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

The judges said they were left with no other option but to set aside the conviction as well as sentence imposed on the appellant by a Mahila Court here on August 1, 2008 on various charges including rape, murder and house trespass as the entire trial stood vitiated.

According to the prosecution, the appellant took up job as a casual worker with a flower vendor who had his shop-cum-residence at Jaihindpuram here in 2006. He was accommodated in the same house as he claimed to be hailing from Tiruchi.

On October 22, 2006, he raped the employer's daughter, then studying in IV standard. The girl sustained head injuries when she resisted. Thereafter, she was strangulated.

A few days later, her body was found in a carton on the second floor of the house.

The Mahila Court awarded capital punishment to him after terming the case as one of the rarest of rare cases. It also referred the matter to the High Court for confirmation. In the meantime, the convict filed an appeal and claimed that he was a juvenile at the time of commission of the offence.

The High Court initially directed the Mahila Court to ascertain the age of the accused. After an enquiry, the lower court judge submitted a report to the High Court on February 22 last year wherein it was stated the accused was 21-years-old at the time of commission of offence.

However, the appellant's counsel A. Sadiq Raja objected to the report on the ground that the Mahila Court failed to consider his school certificate, which mentioned his date of birth to be June 1, 1989.

Hence, the High Court ordered another enquiry by an Additional Sessions Judge.

The second enquiry found that the petitioner was only 17 years, four months and 21 days old on the day on which the offence was committed. It relied upon the school certificate, evidence adduced by incumbent as well as former headmasters of the school and medical evidence to come to the conclusion.