More than three years after the CBI cracked the mysterious rape and murder of the 16-year-old, a Shimla court on Wednesday convicted the lone accused --- 28-year-old woodcutter Anil Kumar alias Nillu.
The accused was held guilty under Sections 376 (2)(i), 376 (A), and 302 of the IPC and Section 4 of the POCSO Act.
Special judge Rajeev Bhardwaj, who conducted the final hearing via video conference, will announce the quantum of sentence on May 11.
The sensational case had led to a massive public outrage, even violent protests in Shimla and elsewhere in Himachal Pradesh. However, the girl’s family had filed a petition in the high court expressing its disapproval of the CBI’s line of investigations.
The case in the high court bench of Chief Justice L. Narayana Swamy is listed for May 3.
Announcing the verdict, the special CBI judge has held Nillu guilty on 12 of the total 14 criminal charges framed against him during investigations. Of these, most crucial evidence against the accused relates to matching of his DNA samples and his presence at the scene of crime where the body of the victim was found in the forests of Halaila (Mahasu).
The accused, after the pronouncement of the verdict against him, denied having committed the offence.
The rape and murder date back to July 4 when the class 10 student went missing while returning home from school at Mahasu in Kotkhai.
Two days later, her naked body was found dumped in the forests, just a few metres from the main path which she took everyday to go to school and.
The autopsy had confirmed rape and murder.
But by this time the violent protests had already begun at Kotkhai, Theog and Shimla as the victim's family and locals alleged involvement of a few influential persons whom the police were trying to shield. Thus, a CBI probe must be ordered, they demanded.
A SIT set up by the state police arrested five persons, including some Nepali labourers – one of them Suraj – died in police custody allegedly of torture at Kotkhai police station. The next day, the police station was set afire by a violent mob.
At the intervention of the high court, which took suo moto cognizance based on media reports, a CBI probe was ordered into the case.
The CBI investigations led to the arrest of nine policemen, including inspector-general of police Zahoor Zaidi for the custodial death of Suraj. Zaidi, who was heading the SIT, is still in jail as he was denied bail recently.
In a new turn, the CBI did not find any evidence against the five suspects arrested by the SIT and nine months later, in April 2018, it arrested the woodcutter on basis of DNA evidence.
The case also had major political fallout in the state, especially being an election year in the 2017.