The Supreme Court on March 21 commuted the death penalty of a Tamil Nadu man for the kidnap and murder of a seven-year-old boy, the sole "male child" of his parents, who were unable to pay ₹5 lakh ransom for the child's release.
The apex court had 10 years ago, in February 2013, condemned Sundar alias Sundarrajan to the gallows. Five years later, in November 2018, the court, however, agreed to review its verdict of death penalty.
On March 21, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India D. Y. Chandrachud, deciding the review petition, said there was "no reason to doubt his guilt in the crimes of kidnap and murder". The Chief Justice said the crime, the murder of a child, was "gruesome".
However, the CJI, reading out the judgment, said the courts had not considered the mitigating circumstances nor had held a separate sentence hearing before condemning the man to death.
Chief Justice Chandrachud said life sentence meant 14 years without parole or chances of remission. But this was not proportionate. The court ordered Sundarrajan, represented by advocate Renjith Marar, to serve 20 years of his sentence without any reprieve.
The February 2013 judgment had reasoned that the boy's death caused “unfathomable grief” to the parents. The boy would have carried further the family lineage and expectedly saw his parents through their old age, the Supreme Court had justified the death penalty.
The crime dates back to 2009 when the victim was accosted by the convict while on his way to school. The prosecution version is that the convict informed the boy that his mother and grandmother were not well and he should accompany him to the hospital. Witnesses said the boy was last seen alive getting on the motorbike of the convict.
On the basis of a complaint filed by the boy’s mother, an FIR was registered by the police. The same day, the mother received a call for ransom of ₹5 lakh. The mother rushed to the police, who formed a team, went to the house of the convict and apprehended him with another person.
The convict made confessional statements, leading to the recovery of three mobile phone sets, two of which had SIM cards. He acknowledged that the boy was strangulated when ransom was not paid for his release. The body was put in a gunny bag and thrown into a water tank.
In 2013, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and J.S. Khehar confirmed the death penalty, highlighting that the convict had no value for human life, the manner of murder of an innocent child and disposal of the body showed a brutal mindset.
The 2013 judgment authored by Justice Khehar had pointed out how the “parents of the deceased had four children – three daughters and one son. Kidnapping the only male child was to induce maximum fear in the mind of his parents”.
“Purposefully killing the sole male child, has grave repercussions for the parents of the deceased. Agony for parents for the loss of their only male child, who would have carried further the family lineage, and is expected to see them through their old age, is unfathomable," Justice Khehar had noted while categorising the crime as ‘rarest of rare’ deserving the death penalty.