Fifteen years after 25-year-old journalist Soumya Vishwanathan was murdered, a Delhi court Saturday sentenced four men guilty of murder and offences under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) to life imprisonment. The fifth convict was sentenced to three years in jail.
While rejecting the request for death penalty, the court held the offence committed by the accused does not fall in the “rarest of rare” category. The court of Additional Sessions Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey sentenced the accused — Ravi Kapoor, Amit Shukla, Baljeet Malik, and Ajay Kumar — guilty of murder and committing organised crime resulting in the death of a person under the MCOCA to life imprisonment.
While the fifth convict, Ajay Sethi, who was convicted for receiving stolen property and conspiring to abet, aid in, or knowingly facilitate organised crime under the MCOCA was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
In this case, over 300 hearings were held and 97 witnesses were examined during the course of time.
On September 30, 2008, Vishwanathan, who was working with India Today, was found dead in her car on Nelson Mandela Marg in South Delhi. A breakthrough came in 2009 during the investigation into the murder of BPO employee Jigisha Ghosh when one of the accused confessed to also being involved in Vishwanathan’s murder.
While convicting the accused, the court held that the prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence, scientific analysis, and eyewitness accounts to corroborate accused Kapoor’s confessional statement. It also observed that the prosecution successfully demonstrated recovery of a key piece of evidence — a WagonR, which hit Soumya’s Zen from the left — from Sethi.
To support its case, the prosecution had presented the testimony of ACP Mohd. Ali, who established that Kapoor was leading the organised syndicate and that the other accused had many criminal cases against them. The prosecution had also presented evidence — recovery of one country-made pistol along with three live cartridges and one used cartridge. The court held all this evidence as valid.
The court, while convicting the accused, also relied on scientific evidence provided by the FSL which, according to them, corroborated Kapoor’s statement in which he stated that he fired at the victim from his pistol while driving his WagonR. The court also held that the FSL corroborated the admission of Kapoor that when the bullet hit the victim, she lost control of her vehicle and it created skid marks on the road. It further noted that the prosecution also relied on the testimony of Inspector Rajeev Kumar and ASI Shree Kumar, who collected certified copies of criminal cases against Kapoor.
The accused were arrested in 2009 and charges were framed against them a year later. In 2011, charges under the MCOCA were introduced. This complicated the case as it was for the prosecution to prove the men were part of an organised crime gang. Further, MCOCA cases generally take a longer period of time.
Public Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan, who was handling the case since the start of the trial, quit in 2014. In November 2015, then Delhi L-G Najeeb Jung reappointed Mohan in the case.