New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Tuesday acquitted six people, three of whose death sentence was upheld by it in 2009 and three others, all sentenced to death by the apex court in the same case.
The accused — Ankush Maruti Shinde, Rajya Appa Shinde, Ambadas Laxman Shinde, Raju Mhasu Shinde, Bapu Appa Shinde and Surya alias Suresh — were held guilty of killing five members of a family in Maharashtra in June 2003. They were also charged for raping a lady who survived and a 15-year-old child who died.
Setting free all the six, the bench of Justice A.K. Sikri, Justice S. Abdsul Nazeer and Justice M.R. Shah hauled up the investigating agency and the prosecution for not being fair during the probe and suppressing material facts from the trial court.
All the six were awarded death sentence by the Session’s Court on June 12, 2006. The Bombay High Court by its March 22, 2007 verdict confirmed the death sentence of accused number 1, 2 and 4 and converted to life imprisonment the death sentence of accused number 3, 5 and 6.
However, the Supreme Court by its April 30, 2009 order upheld the death sentence of accused number 1, 2 and 4 and restored the death sentence of accused number 3, 5 and 6.
The three accused whose life imprisonment was reversed to death sentence by the top court sought the recall of the April 30, 2009 verdict, contending that their sentence was enhanced to death sentence on the Maharashtra government’s appeal without hearing.
In October 2018, the Supreme Court recalled its April 30, 2009 judgment in its entirety and re-heard the matter, which resulted in the acquittal of all the six on Tuesday.
Citing the reasons, the apex court said: “The conviction and sentence imposed by the high court cannot be sustained. The prosecution has failed to prove the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, we have no other alternative but to acquit the accused for the offences for which they are convicted.”
“We strongly deprecate the conduct on the part of the investigating agency and the prosecution. Because of such lapses and more particularly in not conducting the investigation insofar as those four persons who were identified by PW8 on 7.6.2003, the real culprits have gone out of the clutches of the law and got scot free,” the court said.
The apex court noted while the investigating agency and the prosecution said there were 7-8 people who had perpetrated the crime, according to the identification by the witness (PW8), there were 12 accused.
Noting that the “investigation also does not seem to be fair and honest”, the court said, “From the statement of PW8 recorded by the special executive magistrate on 7.6.2003 in which she identified four named persons from the album of the photographs of notorious criminals, nothing is on record whether those four persons were arrested or any further investigation was carried out with respect to those four persons.”
“We are of the opinion there was no fair and honest investigation and even the prosecution tried to suppress material facts from the court,” it said.
“Murder and rape is indeed a reprehensive act and every perpetrator should be punished expeditiously, severely and strictly. However, this is only possible when the guilt has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
“The prosecution/investigating agency is expected to act in an honest and fair manner without hiding anything from the accused as well as courts, which may go against the prosecution. Their ultimate aim should not be to get a conviction by hook or crook,” Justice Shah said.
Ordering further investigation to nab the notorious criminals identified by PW8 from the album, the court said: “The real culprits should not go unpunished in a crime in which five persons were killed brutally and one lady was even subjected to rape.”
The court directed the Maharashtra Chief Secretary to look into the matter and “identify such erring officers/officials responsible for the failure of a prosecution case, on account of sheer negligence or because of culpable lapses.”
The court also directed the Chief Secretary at the Home Department to “take action against the erring officers/officials if they are still in service within three months.”