A Special Court on Wednesday awarded the death sentence to all three accused convicted in the rape and brutal murder of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Kopardi village in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district in July 2016.Jitendra alias Pappu Babulal Shinde, 26, Santosh Gorkha Bhawal, 30, and Nitin Gopinath Bhailume, 28 were sentenced to death for rape, conspiracy, murder and other crimes, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told the media after the verdict.Ahmednagar District and Sessions Judge Suvarna Keole, who found the three guilty on November 18, pronounced the verdict under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act before a packed courtroom.The judge allowed the convicts to appeal before the Bombay High Court."We shall challenge not only the verdict but the entire proceedings before the High Court, the lapses and other issues, on which we have already given written submission to the Sessions Court," the lawyers for Bhawal, Balasaheb Khopade and Vijayalaxmi Khopade, told IANS.The crime took place on July 13, 2016 when the 15-year-old was gang-raped, mutilated and killed, sparking off a casteist and political furore in Maharashtra. The Class 9 student was out to fetch spices from her grandmother's home in the same village.
"Justice has finally been done. My daughter will never return. This is the real tribute to my daughter. We are grateful to (Ujjwal) Nikam Saheb," the victim's mother said before breaking down inconsolably outside the courtroom.Nikam said: "The prime accused Shinde has been convicted and fined for committing the offences of molestation, rape and brutal murder while the other two, Bhawal and Bhailume, provoked him (Shinde), encouraged, conspired and abetted in the crimes," Nikam said.The verdict has been hailed across the political spectrum.Women and Child Welfare Minister (BJP) Pankaja Munde, Maharashtra State Women's Commission Chairperson Vijaya Rahatkar, Shiv Sena women leader Neelam Gorhe, NCP leaders Ajit Pawar and Vidya Chavan and Pune women's activist Trupti Desai welcomed the verdict.