Three of the six men convicted in the Kathua rape and murder case were sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in Punjab’s Pathankot city on Monday, NDTV reported. According to ANI, the three are 61-year-old former government official and village head Sanji Ram, special police officer Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar, a friend of Ram’s minor nephew.

The other three – special police officer Surinder Kumar, head constable Tilak Raj, and sub-inspector Anand Dutta – were given a five-year jail term for destroying evidence, The Economic Times reported. Sanji Ram’s nephew is facing trial in a juvenile justice court while his son Vishal Jangotra was acquitted.

The case relates to the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district in January 2018. The court had completed the hearings on June 3 and had reserved its verdict.

Ram, Khajuria and Surinder Kumar were initially accused of direct involvement in the crime, while Dutta and Raj were accused of helping them cover up the act. They allegedly took Rs 4 lakh from Sanji Ram and destroyed crucial evidence.

Tight security was in place near the court ahead of the verdict, reported the Hindustan Times.

On the last day of hearings, detailed final arguments were made by advocates Ankur Sharma, Vikram and Chandan on behalf of accused Parvesh Kumar.

The prosecution had presented a list of 353 witnesses in the case along with the challan and a supplementary chargesheet but managed to examine only 114 witnesses during the trial, The Indian Express quoted unidentified officials as saying earlier. “There were many witnesses who were for the same evidence or were suspected to be weak witnesses by the prosecution, and accordingly a decision was taken to not examine them,” said a senior official.

Four non-official witnesses out of the 114 reportedly turned hostile during the trial.

Controversial case

The case had led to major outrage across the country last year. A number of groups were seen supporting the accused, some of whom were police officers.

The chargesheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Crime Branch on April 9 last year said the girl had been held captive in a “devasthan”, or temple, in the village, drugged, raped repeatedly, strangled to death and then bludgeoned. She was allegedly abducted on January 10 and killed four days later. Her body was found near Kathua on January 17.

Lawyers in Kathua had prevented crime branch officials from filing the chargesheet.

Later, the victim’s family petitioned the Supreme Court for the case to be transferred outside Jammu and Kashmir, to which the court agreed. The day-to-day in-camera trial began in the first week of June 2018 at the district and sessions court in Pathankot city of Punjab.