A city trial court on Tuesday awarded death penalty to the three accused in the 2009 rape and murder of software professional Nayana Pujari in one of the most anticipated judgments in the State in recent times. The protracted seven-year trial concluded with the sentencing of Yogesh Raut (32), Mahesh Thakur (31) and Vishwas Kadam (34) by Special Judge L.L. Yenkar, who said that the crime could be counted among the rarest of the rare cases. However, the acquittal of the fourth accused Rajesh Chaudhari (30), who later turned approver, has courted controversy.“Judge Yenkar has acquitted Chaudhari of all charges in the case while holding three other accomplices guilty. Despite Chaudhari playing an equal role in the crime, why was he let off the hook?” asked Defence lawyer B.A. Aloor. He said the judgment could set a dangerous precedent by which an accused could absolve his role in a serious crime by turning approver.The prosecution during the course of the trial had taken a stand that Chaudhari was told that the victim was a sex worker and this prompted him to be part of the gangrape.At first, the Yerwada police had arrested all the four accused and slapped similar charges, including kidnapping and murder, against them. However, after the charge-sheet was filed, Chaudhari filed an application to turn approver. No charges were framed against him since then.‘Nirbhaya’ case invokedEarlier in the day, Special Public Prosecutor Harshad Nimbalkar argued for the death penalty and compared the case with the ‘Nirbhaya’ gangrape case in Delhi. “The accused have shown no remorse for the crime they’ve committed to this day,” said Mr. Nimbalkar.Ms. Pujari, 28, an engineer with Synechron Technologies in the city’s Kharadi area, was abducted near the Kharadi bypass on October 7, 2009 while awaiting her transport back home. According to investigators, Raut, along with Thakur, Kadam and Chaudhari, who worked as a security guard with the firm, kidnapped the victim and raped her in the car. They withdrew Rs. 61,000 using her ATM card and killed her. The body was recovered two days later from Khed Taluk, 50 km from the city.“The victim was murdered in cold blood and the criminals showed no mercy. One can only imagine her plight and helplessness while she was gangraped in the car. After strangulating her, the killers attempted to wipe out traces of her identity by attempting to disfigure her,” said Mr. Nimbalkar.The accused were brought to the courtroom at 11 a.m. to hear their final statements. Raut, the cab driver who was responsible for planning the abduction of Ms. Pujari, pleaded innocence by stating that the vehicle used in the crime was not with him on that fateful day. Raut said he had been “wrongly accused” by the approver, Chadhuri. Likewise, Thakur and Kadam told the judge that if they were to be sentenced, then Chaudhuri, too, must share the punishment.On Monday, Judge Yenkar, the fourth to hear the case since the trial commenced in 2011, had pronounced Thakur, Raut and Kadam guilty under Sections 376 (rape), 302 (murder), 120B (criminal conspiracy) 361 (kidnapping) and other Sections of the Indian Penal Code. The victim’s husband, Abhijit Pujari, and Nayana’s sisters, Manisha and Madhura, were present in the courtroom. Mr. Pujari said justice had finally been served with this sentence.