25 years after death penalty, school record shows convict was juvenile, SC sets him free

25 years after death penalty, school record shows convict was juvenile, SC sets him free

PUNE: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the immediate release of Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary, who was only 12 years old at the time of the crime, seeking the release of the death row inmate who has been languishing in jail for the past 25 years.

In a detailed order, a bench comprising Justices Aniruddha Bose, KM Joseph, and Hrishikesh Roy said that the accused would be freed henceforth, finding the allegation true.

For the unversed, Narayan Chetanram Chowdhary was convicted in connection with the 1994 murder of two children and a pregnant woman in the Rathi family in Pune.

On August 26, 1994, Narayanan and his accomplice planned to rob the Rathi residence in Kothrud, Pune. Narayan sought employment as a servant with the Rathis. However, they refused to employ him. The three planned to rob the women and children while they were at home.

Following his conviction in the case, Chowdhury and his co-accused Jeetendra Nainsingh Gehlat filed a mercy petition with the President.

When Gehlat’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in October 2016, Chowdhury withdrew his plea and instead filed a review petition on the grounds that he was a juvenile (under 18) at the time of the offence.

Although the SC dismissed Chaudhry’s review petition in 2000, it was listed again in the court after the 2014 verdict. The petition ordered a three-judge bench to hear the death sentences already passed on him.

In 2018, Chaudhary again approached the Supreme Court with the intervention of Project 39A, a criminal reform advocacy group based at the National Law University in Delhi.

In 2019, the court received a judge’s inquiry report and accepted that Chaudhry’s academic records were not considered by the court concerned while awarding the death sentence. Also, the case could not be taken up for trial beyond three years.

In this situation, on Monday, the court issued a 68-page verdict. It referred to the report submitted by the trial judge appointed to cross-examine the education records of Narayan Chaudhary of Rajasthan and Pune.

The apex court order said, “We declare that the applicant’s date of birth as mentioned in the certificate issued by the Rajkiya Adarsh ​​Uchha Madhaymik Vidyalaya, Bikaner, is admissible for determining his age at the time of the offence. According to the certificate, his age at the time of the crime was 12 years and six months. Therefore, he was a child/juvenile at the date of his conviction. This is considered to be the real age of Niranaram who was tried and convicted as Narayan.” They ordered him to be released immediately.

According to the records of the Rajkiya Adarsh ​Uch Madhyamik Vidyalaya, Chaudhry dropped out of Class III on May 15, 1989. While on death row for nearly 25 years, he learned Marathi and English and earned an MA in Sociology. 

Currently, Chaudhary is  in jail at Nagpur. Once the Pune Sessions Court orders his release, the Nagpur prison will set him free.

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