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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Delhi student murder conviction
Santosh Kumar Singh is led away by police after the verdict
Santosh Singh had been acquitted for lack of evidence
A court in the Indian capital, Delhi, has convicted a man of the 1996 rape and murder of a Delhi student in what is being seen as a landmark ruling.

Santosh Kumar Singh was tried for killing Priyadarshini Mattoo, but acquitted in 1999 for lack of evidence.

The case was taken up again by the Delhi High Court earlier this year following mounting public pressure.

Sentencing will be announced on 30 October. Singh has been told to expect a death sentence or life imprisonment.

We will ask for a death penalty for the accused because of the ghastly nature of the crime
CBI head Vijay Shankar

"The [earlier] acquittal shocked the conscience of this court," Judges RS Sodhi and PK Bhasin said in the judgement, adding that there was enough circumstantial evidence to convict the accused.

Singh, now a practising lawyer, was present in court and arrested immediately after the judgement.

The BBC's Soutik Biswas in Delhi says the ruling is significant in a country where it is routinely alleged that high-profile and influential suspects are not brought to justice.

Critics say criminals go scot-free because of shoddy investigations, a painfully slow justice system or crucial witnesses being bought off or influenced by those in power.

'Victory for justice'

Prosecutors say they want a death sentence for Singh because of the "ghastly nature" of his crime.

Priyadarshini Mattoo
Ms Mattoo was found strangled in her Delhi flat

"This [judgement] will be a benchmark for all trial courts and investigating agencies," said Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) head Vijay Shankar.

A friend of Ms Matto, Indu Jalali, hailed what she said was a victory for India's judicial system and the media.

"This was the result of public outcry, media pressure and rigorous investigation. We never expected this to happen so soon."

Ms Mattoo's body was found in her Delhi flat in January, 1996. She had been strangled and her body showed signs of 19 injuries.

The original trial court judge had said he knew Singh was guilty but was forced to give him the benefit of the doubt and acquit him.

The judge was scathing in his criticism of the investigating authorities, saying they had manipulated evidence and ignored proper procedures.

Singh's father was a senior police officer at the time and the judge said he may have interfered in the case: "The influence of the father has been there in the matter and there was deliberate inaction."

According to the prosecution, Singh had stalked and harassed Ms Mattoo for months. Singh always maintained his innocence.

Campaign

A public outcry followed Singh's acquittal, and the prosecution appealed against the verdict in the high court in April 2000.

Protests against Jessica Lal judgement in Delhi
The Jessica Lal case provoked protests earlier this year

Campaigners formed a group called "Justice for Priyadarshini" and held candle-light vigils and e-mail campaigns demanding punishment for the murderer.

The case made little headway until July, when the high court decided to re-examine the evidence on a "fast-track" basis.

Our correspondent says there have been mounting demands for radical reform of India's criminal law system, including open criticism from several senior lawyers and former judges.

He says public confidence in the justice system is at an all-time low, with many people accusing investigating agencies and the judiciary of catering to the rich and influential.

The Priyadarshini Mattoo case has parallels with that of murdered model Jessica Lal, which is currently being reinvestigated after a prominent media campaign.



SEE ALSO
Justice delayed, but not denied
17 Oct 06 |  South Asia
Hope in India student murder case
28 Jul 06 |  South Asia
Protest over 1996 student murder
23 Jul 06 |  South Asia
Fresh probe over socialite murder
06 Mar 06 |  South Asia
Nine acquitted over model murder
21 Feb 06 |  South Asia

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