Delhi HC Acquits Suhaib Ilyasi After Holding His Wife Committed Suicide [Read Judgment]
The Delhi High Court on Friday concluded that it was a case of suicide thereby acquitting Ilyasi, who had been held guilty of murdering his wife by a trial court in December, 2017 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
“The learned Additional Sessions Judge, Shahdara District, Karkardooma Courts, Delhi in a judgment dated 16th December 2017, which is under appeal here, held that the Appellant had indeed murdered the deceased. We, however, think not,” said a bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Vinod Goel.
Senior Advocate Rebecca M John and Advocate Rajiv Mohan argued the appeal for Ilyasi
Ilyasi’s wife Anju was found in a wounded condition at their house in Mayur Vihar in east Delhi. She was raced to Virmani Nursing Home and then to AIIMS where she breathed her last on the intervening night of January 10-11, 2000.
Ilyasi was booked under Sections 498A and 304B of IPC in 2003 for subjected Anju to harassment, mental and physical cruelty for dowry, leading to her unnatural death within seven years of marriage.
He was, however, acquitted in this case.
Thereafter, an application was filed before the trial court by Rukma Singh (PW-6), the mother of the deceased, seeking the framing of an additional charge under Sections 302/468/471/201 IPC. This application was dismissed by the trial court on February 19, 2011.
Pursuant to the order of the high court, the trial court framed additional charge of murder against Ilyasi on September 6, 2014.
The bench meticulously examined the evidence before it and concluded that it was not a case of murder and even the report of five-member medical board do not have any specific reason to conclude it was a case of murder.
The first blow to the prosecution version was that it never challenged Ilyasi’s acquittal in case of dowry harassment and then went on to prosecute him for murder on the strength of evidence already collected and without recalling any of its witnesses.
Another major loophole in prosecution case was the findings of the five-member medical board which was constituted in year 2012 in light of the differing opinions of the three-member medical board and submitted its unanimous opinion in year 2014 saying the preponderance of evidence submitted in this case points towards commission of homicide.
The court noted that there was no evidence to support such a finding of the five-member medical board who did not even have chance to look at the recording of the post-mortem.
The bench also noted that the additional charge of murder was framed against Ilyasi on the statement of Rashmi Singh, sister of Ilyasi’s wife Anju, who could not be ruled out to be an interested witness and the appellant had alleged that she had been interested in taking away their daughter.
The high court summarised its conclusion as under:
- The trial court held that the testimonies of PWs 6 (Anju’s mother Rukma Singh), 18 (Anju’s sister Reeta), and 20 (Anju’s sister Rashmi), to the effect that the appellant had subjected the deceased to harassment and cruelty in connection with a demand for dowry not only after the marriage but also shortly prior to her death, were not believable. The said finding which resulted in the acquittal of the appellant of the offences under Sections 498A and 304B IPC has not been challenged by the State or the complainant.
- The report of the five-member medical board contains no specific reasons for the conclusion that the preponderance of evidence in this case points towards “commission of homicide.” The numerous factual errors in the opinion reflect non-application of mind to the relevant materials on the record. A conclusion based on faulty analysis, erroneous or absent facts and with no cogent reasons does not inspire confidence.
- In view of the evidence of the medical professionals who comprised the first medical board and in light of the medical literature, this court rejects the plea of the prosecution that the medical evidence unmistakably and conclusively proves that the death was homicidal.
- With there being no matches of the chance prints lifted from the scene of crime with any of the specimen prints of the appellant, the forensic evidence too fails to establish that the death was homicidal.
- Without the prosecution first proving the „commission of crime‟ the question of shifting the burden to the appellant under Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act to explain how the death occurred, does not arise.
- One of the key links in the chain of circumstances, i.e., that the death was homicidal, has not been proved by the prosecution. What has come through both in the medical and forensic evidence is only that the death resulted from stab injuries caused by the kitchen knife which was found in the house.
- The prosecution’s repeated attempts to read the statement of the appellant made to the SDM at the stage of inquest proceedings under Section 176 CrPC and attempt to glean therefrom an admission on his part is legally impermissible.
- The evidence of the appellant’s PSO (PW-13) who first entered the scene soon after the stabbing had taken place makes it clear that the appellant opened the door, called him in and asked him to help him with lifting the deceased. The unchallenged testimony of PW-13 that the deceased told him that she committed a mistake contradicts the prosecution theory that the appellant murdered his wife. Even if the statement of PW-13 in his further cross-examination by the appellant that the deceased was asking the appellant to save her life is kept out of the reckoning, the deceased saying that she had committed a mistake supported the theory of suicide. What comes across is that the deceased regretted her impulsive reaction in stabbing herself.
- Further PW-13 makes it clear that the deceased was alive while she was taken from the Virmani Nursing Home to AIIMS. There is nothing in his evidence which suggests that the Appellant deliberately delayed seeking medical assistance for the deceased. PW-13 and the appellant were with the deceased throughout. PW-13 is with the Delhi Police and there was no suggestion by the prosecution that he was helping the Appellant escape guilt.
- As far as the post-incident conduct of the appellant is concerned, PW-5 (the father of the deceased) found him uncontrollably weeping at the AIIMS. The testimonies of the brother (PW-2) and father of the deceased show that the appellant and the deceased were deeply in love with each other. The testimonies of PWs 2 and 5 have not been disbelieved by the trial Court. On the other hand, the testimonies of PWs 6, 18, and 20 were disbelieved by it when it concluded that the charges against the appellant under Sections 498A and 304B IPC were not proved by the prosecution.
- Merely because the deceased was found to be in good spirits around two hours prior to the incident would not rule out the possibility of her committing suicide by stabbing herself as a result of her quarrel with the appellant which has been spoken to by PW-18. The precise circumstances that led to the said decision of the deceased might be difficult to explain but surmises and conjectures cannot substitute proof.
- The allegations that the appellant obtained an illegal passport and a fake university degree were not in any event issues over which the deceased and the appellant had a quarrel. The quarrel was projected as a result of the closeness between the appellant and Z, which in any event was unable to be established by the prosecution by credible evidence.
- It appears that PW-20 may have had an interest in securing the conviction of the appellant. It is on her statement that the case came to be registered and investigated. Her testimony as an interested witness does not satisfy the test of truthfulness and reliability on the parameters set by the law as explained by the Supreme Court.
While carefully examining the material before it, the bench noted that the medical and forensic evidence does not show it to be a case of murder.
Findings of initial 3-member medical board about hesitational cuts, suicide
The bench noted that the three-member medical board had in year 2000 submitted its final unanimous opinion to the effect that injury Nos.1 and 2 were “self-inflicted and suicidal in nature”. The third injury was said to be over 48 hours old.
It noted that on the basis of findings of this board, the prosecution had not pressed charges of murder.
The bench went on to note that, “Almost 14 months later, a letter dated 8th March, 2001 was written by PW-30 (the investigating officer) to the same three-member board, who first conducted the post-mortem of the deceased, raising seven queries pertinent to the death of the deceased.
“Two of the members of the board, i.e., Dr. R K Sharma (PW-22) of AIIMS and Dr Alexander Khakha from Safdarjung Hospital, submitted a joint opinion dated 12th April 2001 (Ex.PW-22/A) reiterating that the “theory of homicide is ruled out as the pattern of injury is self inflicted and suicidal in nature”.
“In response to Question No.3 as to which of injury Nos.1 and 2 was prior in time, they stated that injury No.2 was the initial “hesitational cut” and was prior to injury No.1 which was opined to be fatal. It is pertinent to note that this was the first time any sort of medical opinion was offered by the board as to which injury was the “hesitational cut” and which was fatal”.
The next question posed to the board was whether injury No.2 (3.5 cm deep) could have been inflicted after injury No.1 (15.5 cm deep). The response was to the effect that the IO had misinterpreted the post-mortem findings. It was further clarified that injury No.1 was caused after injury No.2 and that it was possible to inflict a fatal injury after the initial hesitational cut.
The high court next took note of the dissenting opinion of third member of the Board, Dr. LC Gupta from Aruna Asif Ali Government Hospital “which was by no means categorical. In fact it was vague”.
“Even in his dissent, however, PW-10 (Dr Gupta) concurred with the other two doctors in responding to Question No.3. He stated that “probable scientific speculation may reveal that the injury No.2 as mentioned in PM report was inflicted first then the injury No.1 which was fatal in this case”.
“As for his opinion on the nature of death, his refrain was that “homicide cannot be ruled out”. Thus, he expressed no categorical opinion that it was in fact a case of homicide and not suicide. 160. Due to the uncertain opinion of PW-10, at the time of filing the charge sheet, the prosecution did not proceed on the basis of the death being homicidal despite noting his opinion that homicide cannot be ruled out. Therefore, the overwhelming medical opinion at that stage was that the death was suicidal and not homicidal,” noted the court.
The bench also noted that the investigating officer (PW-30) even while deposing before the trial court wrote to the Delhi government in year 2011 seeking constitution of a fresh five-member medical board which stood constituted in May, 2012.
“It is beyond contention that this five-member board gave its report on 9th October 2014 – more than fourteen years after the date of the incident – without examining the body or the crime scene,” the bench remarked.
Why would deceased choose knife over revolver, former being more painful
Of the seven questions put to the panel by the IO, one of the questions was: “In the face of availability of a loaded revolver, is it likely that a knife would be preferred for committing suicide, which is but obviously a far more painful option?”
“The choice of weapon or mode for committing suicide depends on the mental frame work of the person committing suicide at that material time. Suicide is mostly a matter of impulse,” was the panel’s answer.
The panel also listed other incidents where women have committed suicide by similar method.
Here, the bench said, “It appears to this Court that the IO was anticipating these responses when he asked seemingly leading questions such as whether a knife would be the preferred method for committing suicide when there was a loaded revolver available and with the knife being more painful. The two doctors answered that suicide was mostly a matter of impulse and the choice of weapon was dependent on the mental framework of the person committing suicide. They also pointed out that there are many cases on record “where women victims have used this method of committing suicide”. They also clearly stated that the deceased was not in the phase of menstrual period thus reiterating what was observed during the post-mortem examination”.
The high court then relied on findings in 5th Edition of the text book on Forensic Medicine and Toxicology by Dr. Krishan Vij wherein, under the section titled “Accident, Suicide, or Homicide”, he observes as under: "Suicidal injuries are commonly situated over front of body on easily accessible sites, especially over throat, pericardium abdomen or wrists and rarely found on unusual locations as cannot easily be reached by the victim.
“A couple of characteristic features of suicidal stabbing include the following: Firstly, presence of 'tentative wounds’ that are superficial and unlikely to penetrate beyond muscular layer. The finding of tentative wounds (hesitation cuts) is a useful observation in helping differentiate suicide from homicide. Indeed, 'hesitation marks' can be considered the 'trade marks' of suicide. The name is derived from the fact that cutting/stabbing oneself is painful”.
The court also held that Rashmi Singh, PW-20, being a sister of the deceased, was not only a related witness but also an interested witness.
“Although such witness need not on that score be disbelieved, the settled legal position is that the testimony of such witness has to be carefully scrutinised by the trial Court. In Ram Bharosey v. State of U.P., the Supreme Court explained that a close relative of the deceased does not automatically become an interested witness. It was stated that “an interested witness is one who is interested in securing the conviction of a person out of vengeance or enmity or due to disputes and deposes before the court only with that intention and not to further the cause of justice.” The evidence of an interested witness cannot be thrown overboard, but has to be examined carefully before acceptance,” it said.
“In the present case, PW-20 was obviously an interested witness. She was plainly interested in securing the conviction of the Appellant. It is on her statement that the case came to be registered and investigated. Her testimony as an interested witness does not satisfy the test of truthfulness and reliability on the parameters set by the law as explained by the Supreme Court. The trial Court, therefore, erred in relying on her testimony to return a finding of guilt of the Appellant,” it said.