New Delhi: Acquitting three people accused of the rape and murder of a minor girl, the Patna high court on April 5 held that the brutality of the crime did not exempt the need for legal evidence when it came to a conviction.
LiveLaw has reported that a division bench of Justices Ashwani Kumar Singh and Arvind Srivastava set aside a death sentence given to three men who were accused of raping and murdering a 13-year-old school-goer in 2012.
“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 court said.
In May, 2012, an FIR was registered after the child’s mother stated that her daughter had gone missing since having gone to school. Later, her body was found in a maize field.
According to the report, a large part of the prosecution’s case hinged on the account of a boy who was then 10 years old.
The following paragraphs contain graphic descriptions of brutal crimes. Readers’ discretion is advised.
The boy, in a confession recorded under Section 164 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure, told the Magistrate that one of the accused persons, Prashant Kumar Mehta, used to teach the minor victim and the boy. The boy further said that Mehta had promised, at one point, to marry the victim.
According to the boy, Mehta and two others (Sonu Kumar and Rupesh Kumar Mandal) gagged the victim, lifted her, slit her throat, injured her neck with a bamboo stick and perpetrated other grievous injuries on her. The victim, the boy said, shouted out for help four times. The boy also said that he accused had threatened him to remain silent.
Mehta, Kumar and Mandal were held guilty by the sessions court for the offences under Section 302 (punishment for murder) read with sections 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), 376(2)(g) (punishment for rape) and 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. The sessions court awarded them the death penalty on February 15, 2018.
Reference was also made by the trial court to Section 366 (kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her marriage) of the CrPC for confirmation of the death sentence, LiveLaw notes.
Notably, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, was brought in the same year.
The accused, however, challenged this and said that the “whole case was based on surmises and conjectures.”
On Monday, the high court held, “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 high court reportedly went through statements of prosecution witnesses and also considered submissions made by an amicus curiae it had appointed in the matter.
In its order, the HC highlighted that there was no eyewitness to the crime and that no witness has come forward to suggest that the victim had been seen with the accused appellants on the day of the crime.
“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,” the court said, according to LiveLaw.
The nature of the crime alone could not have been a ground to convict the accused-appellants without necessary evidence, the court said.
The high court also ordered the release of the three from jail.