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SC orders retrial in 2018 Kathua rape-murder, accused to be tried as adult

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside a Jammu and Kashmir Court order and ordered a fresh trial of the accused in the alleged 2018 rape-cum-murder of an eight-year-old girl from a nomadic community.

“The accused is to be tried as an adult and not a juvenile in the Kathua case,” a bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Ajay Rastogi and also comprising Justice J B Pardiwala, ruled.

The Supreme Court passed the judgement on the issue of juvenility of one of the accused, who was earlier held as a juvenile by the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court Kathua.

The Jammu and Kashmir government had claimed that the High Court had erroneously affirmed the order of a trial court holding the main accused to be a minor.

“The medical opinion regarding the age in absence of any other conclusive evidence should be considered to determine the age range of the accused.

“Whether the medical evidence can be relied upon or not depends on value of evidence.

“Thus order passed by CJM Kathua is set aside and thus the accused is held not to be a juvenile at the time of crime,” the apex court said, in its verdict.

According to the prosecution, the eight-year-old girl from the nomadic community of Bakerwal was allegedly kidnapped from Kathua’s Rasana area on January 10, 2018, and was found dead on January 17 that year.

According to a 15-page charge sheet, the victim was kidnapped, drugged, hit by a stone, raped and strangulated inside the temple premises by the accused.

On June 10, 2018, a trial court in Pathankot had sentenced three convicts in the case – Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar – to life imprisonment.

While Ram was the mastermind of the crime and the caretaker of the temple where the child was allegedly raped, Khajuria was a police officer.

Special Police Officer Surender Verma, head constable Tilak Raj and sub-inspector Anand Dutta were awarded five years in prison for destroying evidence.

The Jammu and Kashmir trial court had acquitted the seventh accused, Vishal Jangotra, son of Sanji Ram, by giving him the “benefit of doubt”.

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