A court in Pathankot on Monday sentenced to life imprisonment the three main accused in the gangrape-and-murder of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua, while awarding five years in jail to three others for destruction of evidence, lawyers said.
After nearly a year-long trial, the court held the six guilty in the case that sparked nation-wide outrage, while acquitted another accused Vishal Jangotra, son of mastermind Sanji Ram, giving him the 'benefit of doubt', according to Mubeen Farooqi, who represented the victim's family in the court.
Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the devsthanam (temple) where the crime took place, Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian, have been convicted under Ranbir Penal Code sections pertaining to criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping, gangrape, destruction of evidence, drugging the victim and common intention, prosecution lawyer Santokh Singh said.
The prosecution had sought capital punishment for them.
The three have been sentenced to life imprisonment and fined Rs one lakh each after being convicted for criminal conspiracy and murder, the prosecution lawyer said.
Life imprisonment will mean they will be in jail till the end of their natural life, he said.
They have also been handed over different jail terms for various offences under the RPC which will run concurrently with life term, he said.
Each of their three accomplices -- Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surender Verma -- have been convicted for destruction of evidence to cover up and handed down five years in jail and Rs 50,000 fine each, he said.
If they do not deposit the fine, they will have to serve additional six months in jail, he said.
The court pronounced the much-awaited verdict away from the gaze of media which gathered outside the premises.
The prosecution team, comprising lawyers J K Chopra, S S Basra, Harminder Singh and Bhupinder Singh, said it demanded capital punishment for the main accused and may go in for appeal against the sole acquittal.
"We have sought capital punishment against all three accused convicted of murder and gang rape. It was hard work of all of us and a perfect blend of investigation and legal brains. We have achieve 99 per cent result," the statement said.
The crime branch of J&K Police had filed the chargesheet against eight persons, including a juvenile.
The trial against the juvenile is yet to begin as his petition on determining his age is to be heard by the Jammu and Kashmir high court.
According to the 15-page chargesheet filed in April last year, the girl was kidnapped on January 10 that year and was raped in captivity in a small village temple, exclusively manned by Ram, after having been kept sedated for four days. She was later bludgeoned to death.
The day-to-day trial commenced in the first week of June last year at the district and sessions court in Pathankot in the neighbouring state of Punjab, about 100 km from Jammu and 30 km from Kathua, after the Supreme Court ordered on May 7, 2018 that the case be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir.
The apex court order came after lawyers in Kathua prevented Crime Branch officials from filing a chargesheet in the sensational case.
The crime branch held Ram, his juvenile nephew and his son Vishal, and two SPOs Khajuria and Verma. Raj and Dutta, who allegedly took Rs 4 lakh from Ram and destroyed crucial evidence, were also arrested.
The charges of rape and murder were framed by the district and sessions judge against seven of the eight accused.
The court framed charges under relevant sections of the Ranbir Penal Code, including Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 376-D (gang-rape), according to the prosecution.
The court also framed charges of destruction of evidence and causing hurt by poisoning under Section 328 of the RPC.
All the accused, barring the juvenile, were shifted to the Gurdaspur jail in Punjab following an intervention by the Supreme Court which also restricted appearance of the defence lawyers and limited it to one or maximum of two per accused.
The chargesheet said the girl had gone missing while grazing horses.
Investigators said the accused juvenile had abducted the girl on the pretext of helping her find her horses.
The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a carefully planned strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the chargesheet said.