Sixteen months after the brutal rape-murder of a minor girl in Ahmednagar’s remote Kopardi village sent shockwaves across the State, a special court on Wednesday pronounced a death sentence for the three accused in the crime.The proceedings began at around 11.25 a.m. as the district and State awaited the quantum of sentence with bated breath. A massive crowd of onlookers gathered outside the court, keenly anticipating the final judgement amid a massive security shield.The tension was palpable in the courtroom as the three accused — Jitendra Shinde (25), Santosh Bhaval (36) and Nitin Bhailume (26) — were produced. All three stood with impassive faces as Judge Kevale awarded the death sentence to each of them.Following the pronouncement of the Additional Special Judge Suvarna Kevale, a roar of acclamation was heard outside the courtroom.“I had full confidence in the court and knew that justice would be served…we have waited every single day for nearly one-and-a-half years for this judgement,” said the victim’s father . Speaking after the judgement, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said that all three accused were sentenced to death for the rape and murder of the minor, and hatching a conspiracy for the crime.All three convicts can appeal the judgement before the Bombay High Court.Earlier, a high security alert was pronounced by district administration before the commencement of the proceedings, with flying squads of police personnel stationed at every possible pocket in Kopardi as well as in various parts of the Ahmednagar district. Nearly 1,000 policemen were deployed with entry restricted to the courtroom. During the concluding arguments on the verdict on Wednesday last week, Advocate Nikam, representing the State, had urged the Special Court to award maximum punishment to the three offenders, given the particularly brutal nature of the crime, which occurred on July 13 last year.Advocate Nikam, who had earlier dubbed the murder as “extremely cold-blooded”, touched upon 13 points in the crime to argue that the accused deserved capital punishment. He had further argued that the convicted trio “remained unrepentant of their crime” before and after the tragedy, showing no contrition, while stating that a criminal conspiracy was hatched by the trio to rape and murder the victim between July 11 and 13. Advocate Nikam had further urged for the capital penalty, remarking that “society would get a wrong message if the death sentence was not awarded in so gory a case”.The defence counsels for the accused trio, while pleading for mitigation of their sentences, had said that a death sentence judgement could intensify social tensions between communities.The victim as well as the three accused hail from the same area.The case, which has been closely tracked by political parties and social outfits, had acquired a peculiar urgency owing to the potentially explosive nature of the crime in creating acute social divisions.The incident has been likened to the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case in the extent of its brutality, with medical reports suggesting that violence of a particularly feral nature was wreaked on the minor victim.