The Bombay High Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of a 25-year-old man in the 2013 Preeti Rathi acid attack and murder case in Mumbai, but commuted his death penalty to life imprisonment.
A division bench of Justices B P Dharmadhikari and PD Naik partly allowed the appeal filed by the convict, Ankur Panwar, challenging the death penalty awarded to him in 2016 by a special court.
It was the first instance of death penalty being awarded by a court in the country in a case of acid attack.
"The conviction under section 302 (murder) and 326 (b) (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use of acid) is upheld. The death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment," the bench said.
Preet Rathi, a 23-year-old nurse, who was to join an Indian Navy hospital in Mumbai, died after she was attacked with acid by Ankur Panwar, who was stalking her. The convict was her neighbour in Delhi.
On May 2, 2013, as Preeti Rathi got off a train from Delhi at the Bandra Terminus, Ankur Panwar flung a bottle containing sulphuric acid on her face.
After the attack, Preeti Rathi lost her vision. She spent a month in various hospitals and ultimately died of multiple organ failure.
Her attacker was arrested by the police and tried in a special court which pronounced him guilty in the sensational case which had attracted nationwide attention. While awarding the death penalty to Ankur Panwar, the trial court had observed that "acid attack is worse than rape".
In his appeal, the attacker had claimed that he should not have been awarded the death penalty since the prosecution in the case did not have a "reliable" case. He said that the prosecution relied mainly on the statements of eyewitnesses and some relatives of the victim, it was apparent that some of the statements were incorrect and had been "tailor-made" to suit its case.
The defence team claimed the police had also failed to take any fingerprints from the acid bottle, and therefore, had no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.