The Supreme Court on Tuesday commuted to life imprisonment the death penalty awarded to former Youth Congress leader Sushil Sharma for the murder and burning of the body of his wife Naina Sahni, saying "brutality" alone would not justify death sentence" in the 18-year-old case.
The apex court reduced the punishment, awarded to Sharma by a trial court in 2003 and upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2007, saying the murder was the outcome of "strained personal relationship" and the convict who spent "10 years in death cell" was "not a confirmed criminal".
"Murder was the outcome of strained personal relationship. It was not an offence against the society. The appellant (Sharma) has no criminal antecedents. He is not a confirmed criminal...It is, therefore, not possible in the facts of the case to say that there is no chance of the appellant being reformed and rehabilitated.
"As of today, the appellant has spent more than 10 years in death cell," a bench, comprising chief justice P Sathasivam and justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Ranjan Gogoi, said and noted that Sharma was not completely remorseless as he had wept when shown his wife's body.
Writing the judgement for the bench, Justice Desai said Sharma was "deeply in love" with the victim, was "possessive" about her and the murder was "a result of this possessiveness" as well as his suspicions about her fidelity.
"Undoubtedly, the offence is brutal but the brutality alone would not justify death sentence in this case. The above mitigating circumstances persuade us to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment.
"In view of the above discussion, we commute the death sentence awarded to appellant Sushil Sharma to life sentence. We make it clear that life sentence is for the whole of remaining life of Sharma subject to the remission granted by the appropriate government under the Code of Criminal Procedure," it said.
On the intervening night of July 2-3, 1995, Sharma had shot dead Naina, suspecting her of having an affair with someone else, and then tried to destroy evidence by burning her body in the 'tandoor' of his restaurant Bagia, the court noted in its verdict.