SC relief to death row convicts who killed 8 members of their brother’s family over property dispute; To serve LI for 30 years

Supreme Court: In a case where 8 members of a family, including 4 minors, were brutally murdered pursuant to property dispute between siblings, the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna, JJ has converted the punishment from death to life. However, keeping in mind the gruesome murder of the entire family of their sibling in a pre-planned manner without provocation due to a property dispute, the Court held that the convicts deserved a sentence of a period of 30 years.

Case Trajectory

  • There was a dispute relating to property between the Review Petitioners and their brother, Haneef Khan. At 8.30 PM on 06.06.2007, the Petitioners, along with others, assaulted Haneef Khan, who was offering namaz in the mosque, with sharp-edged weapons such as sword, tangi, bhujali and spade. Haneef Khan died on the spot. The Petitioners and others, thereafter, killed Haneef’s two sons, who were proceeding to the mosque on hearing their father. The Petitioners and others rushed into the house of Haneef Khan and murdered his wife and their four minor sons, aged about 5 to 12 years.
  • On 01.08.2008, the Trial Court convicted the petitioners for offences under Sections 302 and 449 read with Section 34 IPC and sentenced to death for offence under Section 302 read with Section 34, IPC and 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for offence under Section 449 read with Section 34, IPC.
  • On 02.07.2009, taking note of the Petitioners’ culpability in the gruesome murders which assumed “the proportion of extreme depravity”, the Jharkhand High Court refused to interfere with the death sentence imposed by the trial court.
  • On 09.10.2014, the Supreme Court dismissed the Criminal Appeal taking note of the manner in which the offence was committed against the helpless children and others and concluded that the Petitioners would be a menace and threat to harmony in the society. Putting an end to the lives of innocent minors and a physically infirm child, apart from other members of the family, in a pre-planned attack, was taken note of by this Court to hold that the case falls under the category of “rarest of the rare” cases.
  • The petitioners had, hence, in the present Review Petition, sought conversion of the death sentence.

Analysis

The chain of events is complete leading to the conclusion that the murder of the persons inside the house were committed by the Petitioners. The State, hence, argued that in view of the nature of the murders committed in the goriest manner in a pre-meditated fashion, the Petitioners are not entitled to seek conversion of the death sentence. The manner of commission of the crime shows that this is the rarest of the rare cases, warranting a death sentence and that the diabolic and cold-blooded nature of the crime is a factor to be borne in mind to decide the possibility of reformation of the Petitioners.

The Court, however, took note of the well-settled law that the possibility of reformation and rehabilitation of the convict is an important factor which has to be taken into account as a mitigating circumstance before sentencing him to death.

“There is a bounden duty cast on the Courts to elicit information of all the relevant factors and consider those regarding the possibility of reformation, even if the accused remains silent.”

While there was no reference to the possibility of reformation of the Petitioners, nor had the State procured any evidence to prove that there is no such possibility with respect to the Petitioners, the Court took note of certain factors like the socio-economic background of the Petitioners, the absence of any criminal antecedents, affidavits filed by their family and community members with whom they continue to share emotional ties and the certificate issued by the Jail Superintendent on their conduct during their long incarceration of 14 years.

Noticing that it cannot be said that there is no possibility of reformation of the Petitioners, foreclosing the alternative option of a lesser sentence and making the imposition of death sentence imperative, the Court converted the sentence imposed on the Petitioners from death to life imprisonment of 30 years.

[Mofil Khan v. State of Jharkhand, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1136, decided 26.11.2021]


Counsels

For petitioners: Senior Advocate C.U. Singh

For State: Advocate Prerna Singh


*Judgment by: Justice L. Nageswara Rao

Know Thy Judge| Justice L. Nageswara Rao

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