The Supreme Court has acquitted an ex-police constable, who was convicted by the trial court and high court under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and resultantly sentenced to suffer imprisonment for life and also to pay fine of ₹10,000 for killing his wife.
The Bench comprising Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Amitava Roy has held that the circumstances brought forth by the prosecution do not rule out in absolute terms the hypothesis of the innocence of the accused.
At the trial, Jose @ Pappachan, along with his brother Benny Joseph, were indicted under Sections 498A/Section 302 IPC read with Section 34 IPC for having murdered his wife Neena.
The trial court acquitted both of them of the charge under Section 498A IPC, but convicted Jose U/S 302 IPC. The high court confirmed the conviction and sentence of Jose.
Jose was a police constable at the time of marriage with the deceased on 19.6.1986, as per their customary rites. They set up their matrimonial home to start with at their family house and, thereafter, at the places of his postings in service.
Allegedly, Jose developed an extra-marital relationship with one lady named Darly for which he used to ill-treat and harass his wife, both physically and mentally, whenever she used to express her reservations and objections to such alliance.
According to the prosecution, under the influence of the said lady, the appellant even resigned from his job and proceeded for Jeddah in 1997 where he and the said Darly lived as husband and wife.
It is alleged that in order to legalise the relationship, he plotted to eliminate the deceased and with that end in view, returned to India on 22.8.2000. He, thereafter, accompanied Neena, the deceased, for a spiritual retreat to Potta Divine Retreat Centre, but abruptly cut short their stay thereat and returned home on 19.9.2000. The accusation is that after their return on that date, sometime in between 6.30 and 8.30 p.m., the appellant smothered the deceased inside the room of his house, strangulating her using a plastic rope and then hanged her from a hook of the roof of the work area of the house by using a saree and thus brutally murdered her. The prosecution imputed that in this heinous act, the co-accused - his brother Benny, who since has been acquitted, had assisted him.
Senior advocate R. Basant, who argued for the accused/appellant, urged that, in the absence of any eye witness of the occurrence and a convincing and complete chain of circumstantial evidence unerringly attesting the guilt of the appellant, his conviction for murder, in the teeth of the acquittal of Benny, is patently illegal.
Asserting that the evidence as a whole does unmistakably demonstrate that the deceased had committed suicide, he has urged that the acquittal of the appellant and his co-accused of the charge under Section 498A IPC also belies the imputation of his extra-marital association with the lady Darly as alleged by the prosecution.
He also argued that the medical evidence having failed to convincingly prove that the deceased had died of homicidal hanging, the seizure of the nylon rope and broken pieces of bangles from under the cot of the adjoining dining room pales into insignificance.
He said that the circumstantial evidence relied upon by the prosecution is incoherent and insufficient in form, continuity and content and falls short of the legally prescribed standards to return a finding of guilt on the basis thereof.
The court accepted the arguments and held that the medical evidence does not decisively establish the case to be of homicidal hanging. The unchallenged expositions of the doctor performing the postmortem examination highlighting the absence of the characteristic attributes attendant on death due to homicidal hanging following strangulation further reinforce the possibility of suicide. The absence of definite medical opinion about the homicidal death of the deceased in our comprehension is a serious setback to the prosecution.
The bench also held that evidence of the eye-witnesses, when considered in conjunction with the testimony of the doctor, does not link the accused directly or indirectly with the actual act leading to the unnatural death of the deceased.
Allowing the appeal, the bench held as follows:
“We thus consider it to be wholly unsafe to maintain his conviction as recorded by the courts below. We are therefore inclined to extend benefit of doubt to him. The conclusions drawn by the courts below are not tenable on the basis of the evidence available”.
The bench has set aside the conviction and sentence imposed by the trial court and high court.
Read the Judgment here.