28 years after murder, Supreme Court orders release of death row convict after finding he was a child at the time of crime

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The Supreme Court on Monday ordered immediate release of death row convict Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary after finding that he was only 12 years old at the time of commission of the offence. (Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary vs State of Maharashtra)

A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose, KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy on Monday ordered his release after concluding that his claim of juvenility was true.

Chaudhary spent 28 years in prison, 25 of those as death row convict for 1994 Rathi family murders in Pune in which two children and a pregnant woman were murdered.

During his trial as well as appeals against his conviction, courts including the Supreme Court had recorded his age as being between 20 to 22 years.

After his death sentence was confirmed, Chaudhary and one of his two accomplices, Jeetendra Nainsingh Gehlot, submitted mercy petitions to the President. In October 2016, Gehlot’s death penalty was reduced to life imprisonment, while Chaudhary withdrew his mercy plea and instead filed a review petition, claiming to have been a minor at the time of the crime.

What aided this argument was the fact that his schools records from Rajasthan were discovered in 2015 which conclusively proved his juvenility.

Prior to that, he could not prove his age since the crime was in Maharashtra where he had attended school only for 1.5 years.

In January 2019, the Supreme Court directed Pune’s Principal District and Sessions Judge to probe Chaudhary’s age, who submitted his findings, in a sealed cover.

In May 2019, the Vacation Bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna opened it, to find his claims to be accurate.

On Monday, the apex court ordered his immediate release.

Narayan Chaudhary was represented by Senior Advocate R Basant briefed by Project 39-A

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