Three get death sentence for rape, murder of minor

Maratha community members hold a protest rally demanding justice in Kopardi rape and murder case in Sangli last September

After a nail-biting suspense of 18 months, it was all over in barely five minutes for the three convicts in the sensational Kopardi rape-cum-murder case of a 15-year old schoolgirl at the Ahmednagar district and sessions court on Wednesday. The three convicts were sentenced to death by a special court today in a case compared by many to the 2012 Delhi gang-rape. The incident had sparked widespread outrage and protests in the state.

The victim, a Class IX student, was found murdered after being raped on July 13, 2016 at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district. The accused had also inflicted injuries all over her body and broke her limbs before throttling her, the police said. Members of the Maratha community, represented by the Maratha Kranti Morcha rallies, had gathered in large numbers in the court premises during every hearing.

The silent protests in Maharashtra in the past one year forced the government to appoint Ujjwal Nikam as a special public prosecutor and fast-track the case. The prosecution closed the case from its side by presenting 31 witnesses before the court, he said.

The other two accused, Santosh Bhaval, 36, and Nitin Bhailume, 26, had been held guilty of molestation, criminal conspiracy and murder. This is the second instance in three weeks where special judge Suvarna Keole has pronounced capital punishment. "Kopardi was an extremely unfortunate incident which resulted in massive reactions across the state", Fadnavis said and added lawyers of the accused tried everything possible to prolong the case. While passing the judgment, the court called them all in front of the dais and explained to them their conviction clauses, saying that the death sentences are subject to confirmation by 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", the lawyers for Bhawal, Balasaheb Khopade and Vijayalaxmi Khopade, said. Since he failed to pay the fine, the court Wednesday ordered the district administration to recover it from him.

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