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HC convicts lawyer Santosh in Mattoo murder case
S. S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, October 17
The Delhi High Court today convicted its lawyer, Santosh Kumar Singh, in the high-profile Priyadarshani Mattoo rape and murder case, reversing the verdict of the trial judge in the crime committed by him 10 years ago when both were students of the law faculty in Delhi University.

Santosh, a son of former Pondicherry Director-General of Police J. P. Singh, was found guilty on both count, rape and murder of Mattoo at her Vasant Kunj residence here in the afternoon of January 23, 1996, by a Bench of Mr Justice R. S. Sodhi and Mr Justice P. K. Bhasin.

The judgement came on the CBI appeal, filed two years after his acquittal under tremendous media pressure. Sessions Judge G. P. Thareja had acquitted him on December 3, 1999, giving him benefit of doubt, saying that the CBI had bungled in the investigation to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt though he knew that he was the person who had committed the crime.

But the high court termed the trial judge’s verdict as “perverse”, while allowing the appeal of the CBI, which apparently this time did a better job in adducing its evidence under constant media focus.

Santosh was taken into custody immediately in the jam-packed court room on the orders of the Bench by CBI officials. He was on bail after the appeal was admitted.

Reversing the Sessions Judge’s judgement, the Bench said the “circumstantial evidence” as presented by CBI had established beyond doubt the chain of events in the case and these did not indicate any innocence of the accused.

The Bench said the case has “shocked its judicial conscience”, as a young life, and that too of his fellow student, was ended by the accused.

The court, however, posted for October 30 the pronouncement of sentence to him even as his counsel R. K. Naseem said it could not be more than the life imprisonment.

Naseem cited the abnormal delay in deciding the appeal by the high court in the 10-year-old case as the reason for this. CBI lawyer Mukta Gupta also wanted clarification on the sentence today itself.

But the Bench said it would like to hear arguments on the quantum of sentence, holding that there were only two options before it - either to award death penalty or life imprisonment - to the convict.

Santosh after acquittal and release from Tihar Jail in December 1999, where he remained in custody for nearly four years, had started his practise as an advocate in the high court and had continued to pursue till date even when on bail.

The trial judge had given him the benefit of doubt mainly on the ground that the CBI had bungled in probing the rape charge and collecting samples for it in DNA test sent to Forensic Laboratory at Hyderabad, raising doubts about the manner in which the case was handled by the prosecuting agency.

He had come to the conclusion that the CBI had failed to link the rape and murder charges, breaking the chain of events.

Deferring of the sentence by the high court in an appeal was seen as unusual by legal experts as normally in appeal matters punishment even if reversed, is awarded simultaneously.

There were some anxious moments outside the court when mediapersons tried to approach Santosh for his comments as they were virtually rebuked by some young lawyers sympathising with him.

During the court proceeding, Santosh sat visibly tense and as soon as the order for his conviction was pronounced, bowed his head down while his father, a retired DGP watched the entire proceedings with composure.

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