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Allahabad High Court quashes death sentence of convict

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The Allahabad High Court has quashed the death sentence awarded to a convict for the brutal murder of six family members and observed that the prosecution has failed to prove the crime beyond doubt.

The Division Bench of Justice Manoj Misra and Justice Sameer Jain passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Ram Pratap @ Tillu.

The appeal has been preferred by the appellant Ram Pratap @ Tillu against the order dated 21.3.2020 and 21.5.2020 passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Etawah by which the trial court convicted the appellant under Section 302 IPC and awarded death sentence to him with fine of Rs 5 lakh and in default two years Rigorous Imprisonment.

In the case, six persons of a family, namely, Suresh Chandra, Vimla Devi, Avnish, Rashmi, Surabhi and Shweta were brutally murdered. Suresh Chandra and Vimla Devi were husband and wife whereas Avnish, Rashmi, Surabhi and Shweta were their son and daughters.

The FIR of the case was lodged by Hom Singh on 28.5.2012 at about 7.45 AM.

As per the FIR, Vimla Devi, sister of informant (Hom Singh), was married to Suresh Chandra Yadav. The appellant, Ram Pratap @ Tillu is the brother of Suresh Chandra Yadav. Both the brothers resided separately and their properties stood divided. The appellant was a criminal minded person. He had disposed of his entire property and was pressuring his brother Suresh Chandra Yadav and Vimla Devi for additional property and money.

According to the FIR, the above circumstances were conveyed by Suresh Chandra Yadav to the informant and his brother Suresh. Consequently, both Hom Singh and Suresh went to village Pilkhar to pacify the appellant but the appellant continued to pressurise Suresh Chandra Yadav for money.

On 15.6.2012, the marriage of Avnish, nephew of the informant, was to take place. Due to all these reasons, the appellant used to be annoyed with Suresh Chandra and kept an evil eye on the property of Suresh Chandra. It is alleged that with that motive, in the night of 27/28.5.2012, appellant with the help of his associates committed the murder of Suresh Chandra Yadav, Vimla Devi, Avnish, Rashmi, Surabhi and Shweta thereby eliminating the entire family of Suresh Chandra Yadav.

The FIR of the case was registered at Police Station Ikdil, District Etawah as Case under Section 302 IPC.

After investigation, a charge sheet was submitted against the appellant and co-accused Varun Raj. The case was committed to the court of Session and on 12.4.2013 charges under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC were framed against the appellant and co-accused Varun Raj. The appellant and accused Varun Raj denied the charges and claimed trial.

The counsel for the appellant submitted that the trial court committed grave error in convicting the appellant as it is a case of no admissible evidence. He submitted that there is no eye witness account of the incident. The prosecution case is based on circumstantial evidence but prosecution has miserably failed to prove the incriminating circumstances and the chain of circumstance could not be proved.

The counsel for the appellant further submitted that the trial court heavily relied upon motive for the crime and subsequent absconding of the appellant as incriminating circumstances but they by themselves cannot form the basis of conviction.

He also submitted that the motive shown that after eliminating his brother and his family, the appellant would inherit the property is misconceived because upon conviction for murder of the deceased no one can succeed to the estate of the deceased.

Jadu Nandan Yadav, counsel for the appellant, said the recovery of bloodstained lock and bloodstained towel is rendered doubtful as one of the independent witnesses of the recovery, namely, Ashok Kumar, was not examined by the prosecution. He contended that as recovery of bloodstained towels is doubtful, serological reports are of no value. Even if recovery of bloodstained towel is accepted, it cannot be said that the blood found on the piece of towel is of the deceased persons inasmuch as there is no serological report to indicate that the blood group of the deceased matched the blood on the towel. Moreover, there is no report on record regarding the blood group of any of the deceased persons. Therefore, mere presence of blood on the recovered piece of towel is of no consequence and cannot be taken as an incriminating circumstance to hold the appellant guilty.

In the alternative, counsel for the appellant further said that the facts of the case and the nature of evidence led do not warrant a death penalty.

Additional Government Advocate as well as the informant’s counsel submitted that the prosecution has successfully proved the guilt of appellant beyond reasonable doubt and the trial court rightly convicted the appellant in the case.

AGA submitted that the appellant is the real brother of Suresh Chandra Yadav and immediately after the crime, he absconded and could only be arrested after six months. His conduct shows he was guilty. Moreover, he eliminated the entire family of his brother only to grab his property and after the incident, property of his brother, Suresh Chandra Yadav, came to the appellant and appellant executed a Power of Attorney in favour of his wife Manju to enable transfer of the property in favour of his daughter (Diksha). Thereafter, Diksha disposed off the entire property for Rs 5 crore. Thus, the motive for the crime stands duly proved as against the appellant.

The Court opined that these circumstances suggest that investigation of the case was not conducted properly. Rather, it appears tainted. As per Section 172 of CrPC. It is the duty of the investigating Officer to maintain a case diary of the case and note down all the steps of investigation in the case diary on a daily basis. Ordinarily, the lapses on the part of Investigating Officer do not affect the outcome of a criminal trial based on ocular account but in a case based on circumstantial evidence, these lapses assume importance and where the prosecution relies heavily upon recovery/ seizure of incriminating articles from the house of the accused then such recovery/seizure has to be proved beyond the pale of doubt therefore, here, such lapses on the part of Investigating Officer are fatal to the prosecution case.

Thus, on the basis of the discussion above, the court of the view that the alleged recovery of blood stained lock and blood stained towel from the house of the appellant on 28.5.2012 has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt and it has also not been established beyond reasonable doubt that the place from where the towel was recovered was not accessible without removal of the lock allegedly put on the main door.

Moreover, this alleged recovery is not on the basis of a disclosure statement. In these circumstances, when the recovery was made in absentia (i.e. when appellant was not even present in the house) of articles, which are not proved to be bearing human blood much less of the relevant group, in our view, the recovery,firstly, is not duly proved, and secondly, is not to be taken as a clinching circumstance to hold the appellant guilty.

That apart, the court also noticed that the serologist report dated 29.8.2013 was not even put to appellant u/s 313 CrPC. However, as there is nothing incriminating in it against the appellant, we do not propose to remand the matter to trial court on that ground.

“In view of the discussion above, we find that although prosecution might have been successful in proving the motive for the crime against the appellant and also that the appellant made himself scarce after the incident, but except these two circumstances prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt any other incriminating circumstance on the basis of which we may hold the appellant guilty. Merely on the basis of motive and abscondence, though it may give rise to strong suspicion, the accused cannot be held guilty.

In the case at hand, the chain of circumstances pointing to the guilt of the appellant could not be completed. Therefore, in our view, the appellant is entitled to be acquitted.

For all the reasons recorded above, the judgment of the trial court in our opinion cannot be sustained and is liable to be set aside,” the Court observed while allowing the appeal.

“The reference to confirm the death penalty is answered in negative and reference to confirm the death penalty awarded to accused-appellant Ram Pratap @ Tillu is rejected. The judgment and order of the trial court is set aside. The appellant Ram Pratap @ Tillu is acquitted of all the charges for which he has been tried. The appellant shall be released forthwith, unless wanted in any other case, subject to compliance of the provisions of Section 437-A CrPC to the satisfaction of the court below,” the order reads.

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