Delhi HC acquits two men convicted of murder over two decades ago

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New Delhi, Apr 18 (PTI) The Delhi High Court has set aside the conviction and life sentence of two men for allegedly committing a murder over 26 years ago and acquitted them of all charges, holding that they cannot be held guilty merely because they were "last seen together" with the deceased.

A bench headed by Justice Suresh Kumar Kait, while deciding their appeals against the trial court's decision of October 2001, maintained since they were working with the deceased, their being together cannot not be said to be unusual. and the testimony of the witnesses did not inspire confidence.

The bench, also comprising Justice Manoj Jain, added as the accused and deceased were working together, the "'Last seen theory' should be applied taking into consideration the case of the prosecution in its entirety and keeping in mind the circumstances that precede and follow the point of being so last seen.

"We are of the view that it will not be safe to hold the accused guilty merely on the basis of the last seen together circumstance which is also not proved beyond shadow of doubt," said the court in its judgement passed on April 16.

The body of the deceased was found on a railway track in July 1997 and led to the arrest of the appellants after a few days.

The prosecution alleged that the deceased was killed because he came to know about the "illicit relationship" of one of the appellants with a woman.

The trial court returned the finding of guilt largely on the basis of circumstantial evidence while noting that the deceased was last seen by the witnesses in the company of the two accused.

The sentence of life imprisonment of the two appellants was suspended by the high court in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

While refusing to uphold the conviction, the court observed that the one such "last seen witness" had turned hostile and the testimony of others did not evoke confidence. Therefore, the benefit of the doubt should be extended to both the accused, it said.

The two were migrant labourers who lived in slums near Nizamuddin railway station.

Given that it was not the witnesses who had contacted the police, the court said it was "baffling as to how police contacted them", and also questioned the probe undertaken by the agency.

"It is not clear as to when the accused were arrested. Learned trial court was also kept in dark about the other cases fastened upon the accused, which murders had also been allegedly committed by them with the same objective. The motive, herein, is unclear and cannot be assumed from disclosure statements of the accused, being inadmissible in evidence," the court said.

It also said the knife, which was stated to have been found near the body, had not been connected to the accused by the prosecution.

"Curiously enough, on one hand, the prosecution has alleged that the accused persons were very clever and guileful and in order to screen themselves from legal punishment, they had thrown the dead body on railway track to portray it to be a case of a train-accident and on the other hand, they were fool enough that after committing the alleged murder, they would leave the weapon of offence at the spot.

"This paradox is not digestible. Secondly, no chance prints seem to have been collected from the knife and, therefore, it is not explained by the prosecution as to on what basis they were connecting the knife with the accused," the court added. PTI ADS ADS SK SK

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