A fast track court on Tuesday pronounced the death sentence for three prime accused in the sensational October 2009 gangrape and murder of a 28-year-old software engineer Nayana Phatak-Pujari.
Special Judge L. L. Yenkar, who on Monday convicted Yogesh Ashok Raut, Mahesh Balasaheb Thakur and Vishwas Hindurao Kadam for kidnapping robbing, gangraping and then killing the victim, sentenced them to death after a hectic day full of arguments between the prosecution and defence lawyers.
Raut (32) and Thakur (31), both belong to Pune, and Kadam (34) is from Satara district.
Special Public Prosecutor Harshad Nimbalkar forcefully argued for the death penalty against the convicts, terming it as “the rarest of rare cases” considering the brutality of the crime against the victim.
He said that the prosecution conclusively managed to establish the complete chain of circumstances that led to the serious crime and said they deserved “the maximum punishment” under the laws.
“Considering the brutal manner in which the victim was gangraped and then killed, this falls under the category of rarest of rare case,” he said pressing for the death penalty after the conviction.
As co-accused, Rajesh Pandurang Chaudhari, who was arrested as an accomplice, later turned an approver and was granted a pardon, defence lawyers B.A. Alur, Ranjit Dhomse-Patil and Ankush Jadhav, who sought a milder sentence, also argued that he was also guilty and should face the same punishment.
Raut pleaded that he was innocent and was being framed in the case, the vehicle was not in his possession at the time of the incident and the court should consider that he had an aged mother, wife and daughter before pronouncing its verdict.
Both Raut and Kadam also said that Chaudhari was an equal accomplice in the crime, though Thakur didn’t say anything.
The victim’s husband Abhijit Pujari, and sisters Manisha G and Madhuri J who had demanded the death penalty for the accused after their conviction on Monday, expressed their “relief and satisfaction” over the verdict before the media.
Around 8 pm on the evening of October 7, 2009, Phatak-Pujari had completed her duties at Synechron IT company in Kharadi and was waiting for a bus to go home, when Raut, who worked there as a driver, offered her a lift in his car.
However, instead of driving towards her home, he diverted the vehicle towards Rajgurunagar, while picking up two other friends en route.
The three repeatedly raped her in the moving car and then stopped at a desolate spot, where they snatched her debit card, forced her to reveal the pin at knife-point and later withdrew total of Rs 61,000 from her account.
They subsequently strangled her with her scarf, smashed her head with a large stone to mangle her face and dumped her body in the forests of Zarewadi from where it was recovered after two days.
The case created a scare among Puneites, especially those working in late-night shifts in the IT sector and resulted in enhanced security measures both by the companies and police.
The three and Chaudhari, a guard at the company, were subsequently arrested.
On September 17, 2011, Raut managed to escape from police custody while being taken to a hospital for treatment and was nabbed only in May 2013 after the shocking case of Nirbhaya gangrape case in New Delhi.
In his statement, Chaudhari said he was threatened by Raut, Thakur and Kadam that they planned to eliminate the victim and he should keep his mouth shut about it.
Arrested on October 16, 2009, he claimed that he was “extremely remorseful” about the incident but was equally scared over the death threats issued by the accused. However, he later mustered courage and agreed to turn an approver in the case.
The trial, which continued for over seven years, saw four different judges hearing the matter in which the prosecution examined 37 witnesses and the defence another 13 witnesses.
A large number of civil rights activists and groups had assembled outside the court for the past two days, carrying placards and banner demanding “justicea for Phatak-Pujari and “death for the convicts”.