A city trial court on Tuesday awarded the capital punishment to the three accused in the gangrape and murder of software professional Nayana Pujari in one of the most anticipated judgments in the district and State in recent times.The protracted seven-year trial finally 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 committed fell within the purview of the rarest of the rare cases.However, the acquittal of all charges of the fourth person Rajesh Chaudhari (30), who was accused in the crime but 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?” questioned Defence lawyer B.A. Aloor, remarking that the judgment could set a dangerous precedent wherein any accused could find a way of whitewashing his involvement in a serious crime by conveniently turning approver.Cause of controversyThe prosecution, during the course of the trial, had taken a stand that Chaudhari was told that the victim was a sex worker and that this prompted him to be part of the gang-rape.At first, the Yerwada police had arrested all the four accused, including Chaudhari and had slapped similar charges, including kidnapping and murder, against all of them.However, after the charge sheet was filed, Chaudhari had filed an application to turn approver. No charges were framed against him since then.‘Nirbhaya’ case evokedEarlier in the day, Special Public Prosecutor Harshad Nimbalkar vigorously argued for the death penalty commenting on the particularly gratuitous nature of the crime and comparing the case with the ‘Nirbhaya’ gangrape case in Delhi which followed later.“The accused have shown no remorse for the crime they’ve committed to this day,” said prosecutor Nimbalkar.The 28-year-old Ms. Pujari, 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, first kidnapped the hapless victim and later raped her in the car. They withdrew Rs. 61,000 using her ATM card and bludgeoned her to death in a remote spot.Nayana’s body was recovered two days after the brutal crime from Khed Taluk, 50 km from the city.“The victim was murdered in cold-blood by criminals who showed her no mercy. One can only imagine her plight and sheer helplessness while she was being gangraped in the car. After strangulating her, the killers attempted to wipe out traces of her identity by attempting to gruesomely disfigure her,” said Prosecutor Nimbalkar, while urging that no mercy be shown to the three accused.The accused trio was brought into the courtroom at 11 a.m. to hear their final statements. Raut, the cab driver who worked for the IT firm and was responsible for engineering 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 that 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 protracted trial commenced in 2011, had pronounced Thakur, Raut and Kadam guilty under sections 376 (rape), 302 (murder), 120B (criminal conspiracy) 361 (kidnapping) along with several other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).For the victim’s husband, Abhijit Pujari and Nayana’s sisters, Manisha and Madhura, who were present in the courtroom, the judgment had an emotional effect as the family had grappled with the painful incident for seven long years. Abhijit said that justice had finally been served with this sentence.