Final arguments to begin on Oct 26, verdict in Nov

| | Mumbai

With the trial in the Kopardi minor girl gangrape and murder case having reached a crucial stage, final arguments in the much-discussed case will begin before a special court (POCSO Act) at Ahmednagar  on October 26.

The final arguments were to have begun in the special court at Ahmednagar in western Maharashtra on Wednesday. However, the Prosecution sought postponement of the final arguments. “Though we had conveyed to the court that the Prosecution could begin the final arguments even in our absence, the prosecutor made a request for the postponement of the hearing,” defence lawyer Vijayalaxmi Khopade said,  after the adjournment of the hearing.  

Following the Prosecution’s request, Ahmednagar district Sessions Judge (Mrs) Suvarna Keole scheduled the final arguments for October 26. The verdict in the case is likely to be delivered in the first week of November.

The trial in the Kopardi girl gang rape and murder case began on December 20, 2016.

During the trial which saw several twists and turns that saw defence lawyer Vijayalaxmi Khopade – along with another lawyer Rakesh Rathod --first move the Aurgangabad bench of the Bombay High Court and later the Supreme Court, the Prosecution examined 31 witnesses, while Vijayalaxmi examined one defence witness.

A 15-year-old victim girl, who belonged to the Maratha community, was brutally raped on July 13, 2016 allegedly by three Dalits who inflicted injuries all over her body and broke her limbs before throttling her at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district. The fast-track court had on November 9 last year framed charges against three accused --- Jitendra alias Pappu Babulal Shinde (26), Santosh Gorkha Bhaval (30) and Nitin Gopinath Bhailume (28) --under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act for allegedly perpetrating a sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl and strangulating her in July 2016.

After partly allowing a plea by defence lawyers Vijayalaxmi Khopade and Rakesh Rathod challenging the “legality, validity and propriety” of the lower court’s July 10 order, Justice K K Sonawane of the high court’s Aurangabad bench had on August 3 directed the trial court not to go ahead with the proceedings in the ongoing trial till August 11, to facilitate the defence advocates to move the Supreme Court.

In his order on the criminal revision petition filed by the two defence advocates, the high court Judge had directed the Ahmednagar Special Court (POCSO Act) to issue process to make one Rajendra Chavan  as a defence witness in the case.    

Subsequently, in the third week of August, a SC bench of Justices  A K Goel and Justice UU Lalit – while  dismissing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by Vijayalaxmi and Rathod challenging the August 3, 2018 order of the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court  -- disapproved the mention of the names of the victim, informant and the name of the village in the order of the lower court bench. It directed the Aurangabad bench of the high court to modify its order.

In their SLP, defence lawyers in the  Kopardi girl gang rape and murder case, In had urged the Supreme Court to make five persons including SPP Ujjwal Nikam, as the defence witnesses in the ongoing trial.

Among the documents and material which the lower court had earlier refused to admit as evidence, there were CDs prepared by Chavan. They contain the speeches of State chief minister telecast on a Marathi television channel, the news item of a meeting between Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, the family members of the victim girl and one Bhayuji Maharaj,  the interview  of State Education Minister Vinod Tawde. Finding substance in the argument made by the defence lawyers that “the Prosecution has no authority to cause interference during the course of investigation”, the high court judge observed that the participation or indulgence of public prosecutor during the course of investigation is “injudicious” and “pernicious” one.

It may be recalled that Ahmednagar district Sessions Judge (Mrs) Suvarna Keole had in her July 10 order rejected the defence lawyer’s plea seeking to make Public Prosecutor Nikam and five others defence witnesses in the case. The trial court judge had also rejected the documents and electronic evidence submitted by the defeence lawyer in support of her case. Of the six “defence witnesses” whose depositions that the defence lawyer had wanted the trial court to record, the trial court allowed the examination of one defence witness Rajendra Chavan.



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