The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has set aside the death sentence awarded to two accused in a case of rape and double murder.
Upon examination of the entire evidence on record, the bench of Justice SS Shinde and KK Sonawane held that the prosecution’s case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence which was insufficient to prove the guilt of the accused.
The said case was decided by special judge, Majalgaon, and in a judgment dated August 17, 2016, he sentenced the accused to death convicting them under Sections 449, 354(B), 376(2)(i), 302, read with 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and under Section 4 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
According to the prosecution, around 5.30 pm on May 28, 2015, the informant Gulab Shaikh was taking a round along with one Gangabhishan Gade in a field where his brother Chand Shaikh stayed in Choramba village of Beed district.
As Gangabhishan was thirsty, Gulab Shaikh offered to get water from his brother’s house, which was latched from outside. Upon entering the house, they discovered that Chand Shaikh’s wife Noorjahan and their 14-year-old daughter lying dead on the floor. Both men saw that their clothes were torn and the young girl had blood coming out of her nose.
It was also the case of the prosecution that Papa Shaikh, brother of both Gulab and Chand Shaik, lived 300-400 metres from Chand Shaikh’s house. He stated that on the day of the incident, at midnight he saw one of the accused, Krushna Ridde, hurriedly going towards the same field Chand Shaik’s house was in.
Thereafter, Papa Shaikh went back to his own house and when he woke up in the morning, he heard about the murders.
According to the prosecution, both the accused raped the minor daughter of Chand Shaikh and Noorjahan, and in order to keep them quiet, killed them.
After their conviction in the said case by the trial court, it was sent to the high court under Section 366 of CrPC for confirmation by accused Krushna Ridde and Achyut Babu.
Submissions and Final Judgment
Appearing for one of the accused, SG Ladda submitted that the entire prosecution case rests upon circumstantial evidence and unless there is complete chain of circumstances, which firmly establishes each of the circumstance separately and all collectively, no conviction can be maintained.
He also submitted that Noorjahan was involved in illegal liquor trade and she used to reside in that house along with her daughter and husband, and there was no one else. Hence, there was no way connecting the accused with the two murders.
Although the report of the autopsy surgeon states that there was forceful sexual intercourse, the post mortem conducted immediately after the bodies were discovered states the probable cause of death was asphyxia due to manual strangulation and there was no evidence of forceful sexual intercourse.
The appellant’s counsel pointed at several other infirmities in collection and recording of the evidence procured from the crime scene.
Ladda also pointed to the political pressure in the case as several political leaders, including NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, had enquired about the case and the Superintendent of Police, Beed district, had asked Investigating Officer Ganesh Gawade to complete the investigation as early as possible.
This fact was admitted by Gawade himself in his cross-examination.
The court observed:“Considering the manner in which investigation is carried out in the present case, we find considerable force in the submissions made by the counsel appearing for the Appellants that the Investigating Officer was determined to book the present Appellants by hook or crook, and to ensure their conviction so as to save the investigating machinery from not really tracing out the real culprits.”
It further noted that key witnesses like Gangabhishan, who first saw the two bodies, had not been examined by the prosecution. Neither was Chand Shaikh. Thus, the confirmation of death sentence sought by the trial court was declined and giving the benefit of doubt to the accused, their conviction was set aside.
The court said:“In the light of discussion in foregoing paragraphs, we are of the considered view that the entire prosecution case rests upon the circumstantial evidence and the evidence brought on record by the prosecution is not cogent, sufficient, convincing and do not inspire confidence so as to prove the offence against the Appellants beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, an inevitable conclusion is that the Appellants are entitled for the benefit of doubt.”