Contract killer’s death penalty converted to life imprisonment

New Delhi, August 31: The Delhi High Court Monday converted the sentence of a contract killer who had killed a witness six years ago from death penalty to life imprisonment on the grounds that the case did not fall in the category of rarest of the rare.
Mani Gopal had murdered the witness, an eunuch, inside the Tis Hazari court premises in 2003 when she was going to record her evidence in a murder case.

Geeta Hazi, a resident of Rajouri Garden in Delhi, had allegedly hired Gopal to eliminate Neelam as there was a dispute between them over control of areas for collection of donations and gifts on auspicious occasions.

The accused had fired three shots at Neelam, killing her on the spot. The police arrested Gopal instantly and seized the weapon.

Hazi had earlier in 2002 allegedly hired another killer to eliminate Neelam. But instead of killing Neelam, the killer murdered another eunuch. However, the court had acquitted the contract killer in a separate trial for want of evidence.

A division bench comprising of Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Indermeet Kaur said: “Keeping in view the fact that the crime committed by Gopal is more than a murder of an ordinary category, we hold that the instant case falls in the category where the appropriate sentence to be imposed is of imprisonment for life with a direction that Gopal would not be considered for being granted remission till he undergoes an actual sentence of 20 years.”

The bench said that by killing the witness the accused had “polluted the stream of justice”.

The court while converting the death penalty to life imprisonment ruled: “To attract the penalty of death, it has to be established that the case falls in the category of the rarest of the rare.

“Witnesses being threatened, intimidated or bought over has been plaguing the criminal justice delivery system in India to such an extent that in the eyes of the public the system itself has come under trial.

“The existence of the state is dependent upon a good, effective and efficient criminal justice delivery system. If the same fails, the citizens would settle their disputes in private and the rule of law would cease to exist,” the court said.