Madras HC commutes death sentence, orders education of convicts’ children
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Madras HC commutes death sentence, orders education of convicts’ children

Meera Emmanuel

The Madras High Court, while commuting the death sentence of two convicts, has directed that the Legal Services Authority to ensure that education is imparted to their children.

Factual Background

Elangovelan and Kamaraj, along with Santhanam (deceased), were found responsible for the murder of three women. Following investigation and arrest of the accused, the case was heard first in the Principal Sessions Court and thereafter in the court of the Additional District and Sessions Judge, Namakkal. Whereas Santhanam died before the trial commenced, both courts found Elangovelan and Kamraj guilty.

The accused were both served a death sentence, combined with double life imprisonment by the Additional District and Sessions court. Whereas an appeal preferred by Kamaraj against the same was dismissed by the Division Bench of the High Court, Elangovelan did not file an appeal at all.

When the matter was referred to the High Court for confirmation, a Division Bench of Justices PN Prakash and CV Karthikeyan confirmed the conviction on grounds of substantial circumstantial evidence proving guilt. However, after balancing the aggravating and mitigating factors in the instant case, the Court commuted the death sentence to imprisonment for thirty years.

Court’s role as Parens Patriae

The Court has gone on to empathize with the children of the former death row convicts, observing,

In a referred trial, this Court takes the role of parens patriae of the families of both the death row prisoners and the victims.”

One of the victims, Sindhu, is survived by her six year old daughter, Abhinandhini. Elangovelan has one child, whereas Kamaraj has two children.

It was noted that as parens patriae, the Court,

cannot keep its eyes blind and say “we have given this particular sentence and thereafter, we have nothing further to do with this case or with the family of the accused and the victims!!”.  The duty of the Court extends further.

Taking into the perspective the three young children left behind by the convicts and the stigma they are likely to face on account of their fathers’ conviction, the Court observed,

when they grow up and enter into the society, do not have any anger or any reason to wreak vengeance in any manner whatsoever

To young minds, words of robbery, murder and death sentence are meaningless. All they would know is that the Government or the judiciary, through the Government, was responsible for the death of their fathers.  Leaving out to society, these three children would be more hazardous than leaving out to society the victim child.”

This served as one of the mitigating factors to commute the death sentence. The Court also expressed hope that the convicts will have better incentive to reform themselves in the interest of their children. Further, the Bench went on to enlist the assistance of the District Legal Services Authority in ensuring the education of the children.

The District Legal Services Authority at Vellore and Namakkal Districts are requested to send their para legal workers/legal aid advocates and ensure that the children of Kamaraj (A2) and Elangovan (A3) are placed in schools and imparted education and also more importantly, ensure that the occupation of  Kamaraj (A2) and Elangovan (A3) are not insisted by the school authorities.”

The Court also emphasized that it recognizes that that the victim’s daughter, Abhinandhini will be undergoing a painful experience. However, it expressed hope that she will be able to cope with the help of her family.

Abhinandhini who is surrounded by a family of doctors who can very well impress upon her, the value of human life,  accepting that though her mother, her aunt and her grandmother were dead, the two men who have been found guilty are still alive and are being sufficiently punished not to enter into society to kill more people and be an endanger to the society

But, equalising anger in her mind is the fact that she comes from a family of doctors and medical practitioners and with their influence, she can, realise that saving life is actually one of the ideals and for which her mother, also a doctor, lived and when her mother judges Abhinandhini, she would also appreciate if Abhinandhini were to uphold the value of life rather than expecting revenge by imposition of death sentence.

However, it was specifically emphasized that the accused should not be released unless they complete thirty years of actual imprisonment without any statutory remission or commutation. The Court opined that the imprisonment,

“…has to be at least for a period of thirty years till Abhinandhini becomes a woman of 36 years.  By that time, hopefully, with the grace of the Almighty and the blessings of her elders, she would have settled down in life and the anger owing to the loss of her mother, aunt and grandmother would diminish to a large extent.   She might even have a family. This would give her confidence in life…

…Keeping that in mind, we hold that Kamaraj (A2) and Elangovan (A3) should be restrained for a period of thirty years in prison, without any remission by the State Government on any account.”

Absence of the police or lack of written record does not vitiate extra-judicial confessions

In discerning the guilt of the accused, substantial reliance was placed on the testimony advanced by one Balasubramaniam, to whom Elangovelan had verbally confessed his crimes. This event had proved to be the turning point in the investigation, which eventually lead to the apprehension and arrest of all the accused.

While the defense counsel objected to certain discrepancies in the letter made recording this confession before the police, the Court held that the oral confession made before inspired sufficient confidence. On the reliability of oral confessions, the Court noted,

There is no requirement in law that an extra judicial confession should be written down by the listener to make it authentic. For example, if a person were to give a confession to a Parish Catholic priest that he had committed an offence, cannot the priest give evidence in the Court about the confession?

…In India, we have a codified law of evidence where the privileges have been set out in Sections 122 to 129, where, there is no bar for the admissibility of a confession given to a priest.

…One should remember that we have a huge illiterate population in our country and to hold that, only literates can listen to confessions and depose about it in the Court would be a travesty of justice.”

Read copy of judgment below.

Judgement-ReferrenceTrial-Madras-High-Court.pdf
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Image taken from here.

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