The Patna High Court on Monday acquitted three accused persons of the charges of raping and murdering a 13 year old minor girl thereby setting aside the death sentence awarded to them by the trial court after observing that the "entire bucket of evidence was either inadmissible or unbelievable to rely upon by the Court."
A division bench comprising of Justice Ashwani Kumar Singh and Justice Arvind Srivastava observed thus:
"On consideration of the entire evidence, we reiterate that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove each of the links in the chain of circumstances beyond reasonable doubt against the accused-appellants. No doubt that the offence committed was gruesome and revolts the conscience but that alone could not have been a ground to convict the accused- appellants in absence of legal evidence against them."
The appellants namely Prashant Kumar Mehta, Sonu Kumar and Rupesh Kumar Mandal were held guilty by the sessions court for the offences under sec. 302 read with sec. 34, 376(2)(g) and 120B of the Indian Penal Code and were awarded death penalty vide order dated 15th February 2018.
Reference was made by the trial court under sec. 366 of the CrPC for confirmation of the death sentence. However, the appellants challenged the said conviction order along with sentencing order before the High Court. The High Court then heard the appeals as well as the reference together while acquitting them of the charges.
The facts of the case date back to 12th May 2012 where an FIR was registered on the basis of oral statement made by one Jagdish Mandal (informant) stating that her daughter, aged about 13 years of age, did not return home after attending school.
It was later revealed that an unidentified dead body of a girl was found lying in the maize field. On reaching the field, the body was identified by the father and other relatives of the deceased.
At the time of recording of sec. 164 statement, a boy aged 10 years told the Magistrate that accused Prashant Kumar Mehta, who used to teach them, told the deceased victim that he will marry her. He further disclosed that the said accused came and caught hold of the victim after pressing her mouth in the presence of other two accused persons. It was alleged that all of them lifted her to the filed wherein she shouted four times to save her.
It was also disclosed that he had seen the incident wherein Rupesh slit her throat from a knife, Sonu cut the belly from blade and Rupesh pierced bamboo stick in the neck. Furthermore, it was also alleged that the accused persons threatened to kill him if he disclosed the entire set of facts to anyone.
It was however the case of the appellants that from the evidences adduced during the trial, it becomes clear that even the prosecution witnesses themselves have not witnessed either rape or killing of the victim. Moreover, it was submitted that the whole case was based on surmises and conjectures.
According to the counsel appearing for appellants, it was submitted that the gravity of the offence cannot by itself overweigh as far as legal proof is concerned and there can be no conviction merely on the basis of suspicion howsoever grave it may be and that the motive, since the case is based on circumstantial evidence, alleged by the prosecution for such ghastly and brutal killing was very feeble and weak.
The Court after going through the statements of prosecution witnesses and submissions made by the Amicus Curiae in the matter, came to a conclusion that:
"The trial court has held the appellants guilty for the offences under Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code. We have seen that there is no eyewitness to the occurrence. None had seen the appellants committing any act leading to death of the deceased. No witness has come forward to even suggest that the appellants were seen either with the deceased on the fateful day or were seen in and around the maize field of Satyanarayan Mandal where the dead body was recovered either prior to or after the occurrence."
Noting that there was no eyewitness in the case who came forward to suggest that appellants were seen with the deceased, the Court observed thus:
"The only link of criminal conspiracy against the appellants is the allegation that they committed offence together and, on that basis, a criminal conspiracy to commit the act has been erroneously presumed to be proved by the trial court. The aforesaid discussion leads us to conclude that the entire bucket of evidence is either inadmissible or unbelievable and untrustworthy."
In view of this, the Court, on the consideration of entire evidence adduced in the case, reiterated that the prosecution miserably failed to prove each of the links in the chain of circumstances beyond reasonable doubt against the accused-appellants.
"No doubt that the offence committed was gruesome and revolts the conscience but that alone could not have been a ground to convict the accused- appellants in absence of legal evidence against them. For all the aforesaid reasons, the appeals are allowed. The impugned judgment of conviction dated 07.02.2018 and the consequent order of sentence dated 15.02.2018 passed by the learned 1st Additional Sessions Judgecum-Special Judge, Purnea are, accordingly, set aside. The appellants, namely, Prashant Kumar Mehta, Sonu Kumar and Rupesh Kumar Mandal are acquitted of the charges levelled against them. They shall be released from the jail forthwith unless they are required in any other case." the Court observed while setting aside the death penalty and acquitted them of the charges.