The court found them guilty of rape, conspiracy, murder and other crimes.

Kopardi case Three men awarded death penalty for rape and murder of 15-yr-old girl
news Law Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 17:02

A special court in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra awarded the death sentence to all three convicts on Wednesday for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Kopardi village.

Jitendra alias Pappu Babulal Shinde, 26, Santosh Gorkha Bhawal, 30, and Nitin Gopinath Bhailume, 28, have been sentenced to death for rape, conspiracy, murder and other crimes, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told the media after the verdict.

Earlier, after finding them guilty on November 18, Ahmednagar District and Sessions Judge Suvarna Keole pronounced the verdict under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act before a packed courtroom.

The judge has allowed the convicts to appeal before the Bombay High Court.

"We shall challenge not only the verdict but the entire proceedings before the High Court, the lapses and other issues on which we have already given our written submission to the Sessions Court," said Balasaheb Khopade and Vijayalaxmi Khopade, the lawyers for Bhawal.

The crime took place on July 13, 2016 when the 15-year-old was abducted, raped, mutilated and killed, sparking off a casteist and political furore in Maharashtra. That evening, the Class 9 student was out to fetch some spices from her grandmother's home in the same village.

"Justice has finally been done. My daughter will never return. This is the real tribute to my daughter. We are grateful to (Ujjwal) Nikam Saheb," the girl’s mother said before breaking down inconsolably outside the courtroom.

Nikam said: "The prime accused Shinde has been convicted and fined for committing the offences of molestation, rape and brutal murder while the other two, Bhawal and Bhailume, provoked him (Shinde), encouraged, conspired and abetted in the crimes."

The verdict has been hailed across the political spectrum.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the trial was conducted in a record time and it would serve as a warning to all rapists.

Opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil (Congress) said: "Justice at last."

State Congress President Ashok Chavan said the trial could be conducted so fast because of the changes in the law effected by the UPA government after the heinous Nirbhaya case of 2012.

AIMIM legislator Imtiaz Jaleel demanded that the convicts should be hanged in a public place with live telecast -- as in some Arab countries.

A large number of people staged a noisy protest outside the court demanding that the death sentence verdict be implemented as soon as possible to serve as a warning to potential offenders.

Several political leaders demanded that the verdict should be taken up for confirmation hearing by the Bombay High Court on priority and the sentence of the lower court should be upheld.

The trial in the case - dubbed as Maharashtra's 'Nirbhaya' - started before the fast-track Special Court on December 20, 2016.

In 11 months, the prosecution examined 31 witnesses, while defence lawyer Vijayalaxmi Khopade examined one witness.

The prosecution said the prime accused, Shinde, allegedly raped and murdered the girl while the other two, Bhawal and Bhailume, conspired in committing the crime.

Though the police had previously hyped it as "gang rape", Nikam later submitted 24 pieces of evidence to deduce that the prime accused Shinde had raped and smothered the girl to death.

On the "conspiracy" of the co-accused, Nikam argued that Bhawal and Bhailume were present when Shinde had teased the girl two days prior to the incident. Shinde had given a missed call to Bhailume when he and Bhawal were in the vicinity of the crime.

"The entire case was based on 'circumstantial evidence' which we have proved to the court. Though the accused may lie, circumstantial evidence can't lie. Besides, other forensic evidence also helped clinch the case," Nikam said.

The defence lawyers - Yohan Makasare, Vijayalaxmi and Prakash Aher - argued that their clients were framed.

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