SC sets free three murder convicts finding investigation was done under political pressure to allow real culprits escape by burying the truth fathom deep

Supreme Court: A Division Bench of Indira Banerjee and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ. reversed concurrent judgments of the trial court and the Madhya Pradesh High Court whereby three persons were convicted in a murder case and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Supreme Court found that the police investigation in the case was done under political pressure for extraneous considerations, designed to turn the informant and her family members as accused, and allow the real culprits named in the FIR to escape.

Facts and Appeal

Accused 2 (“informant”) was the wife of Accused 1 and sister of Accused 3. The prosecution’s case was that on the night of 13-5-2008, all three accused attacked Accused 1’s brother with knife and lathis resulting in his death. Thereafter with intention of screening the crime, Accused 2 took the victim to the hospital and sent a false information to police that the murderous assault was committed by two other persons, Ruia Yadav and Kailash Yadav. The case was that Accused 1 had a quarrel with his brother (deceased) over non-payment of Rs 250 by the deceased to Ruia, and in that quarrel Accused 1 got injured and thereafter all three accused attacked the deceased. The accused were charged for offences punishable under Section 302 (punishment for murder) read with Section 34 (acts done in furtherance of common intention) of the Penal Code, 1860.

The trial court convicted the accused persons and sentenced them to life imprisonment. This judgment was confirmed by the High Court. Aggrieved, the informant and her brother (Accused 2 and Accused 3) approached the Supreme Court.

Analysis and Observations

Sequence of events

Closely scrutinising the sequence of events that happened from the date of crime, the Court was of the view that it showed that investigation in the case proceeded towards burying the truth instead of proceeding in pursuit of the truth. The Court narrated the sequence of events which are summarised below:

(i) On 13-5-2008, an Assistant Sub Inspector in the police station concerned received an information from Government Hospital about a person having been brought dead. FIR was registered showing Accused 2 as complainant, and showing Ruia Yadav and Kailash Yadav as accused.

(ii)  The investigation was taken over by another Assistant Sub Inspector (“Investigating Officer”), who started investigation the next morning on 14-5-2008. Normally, one would have expected the investigation first to proceed against Ruia and Kailash who were named as accused. But interestingly, right from the beginning, investigation carried out by the Investigating Officer proceeded in reverse direction by making the informant, her husband and her brother as accused, whereas the original accused Ruia and Kailash were made prosecution witnesses.

(iii) During cross-examination, the Investigating Officer admitted that there were demonstrations by political parties when investigation was taken up by him on 14-5-2008 against Ruia and Kailash. This is perhaps why he first took the informant for  medical examination and got a report to the effect that there were several abrasions on her back. On the basis of such report, the Investigating Officer concluded that the abrasions must have been caused during scuffle between the deceased and the informant.

(iv) The informant, her husband and her brother were arrested on 15-5-2008. In other words, within three days of the commission of crime, persons named as accused in the FIR were made prosecution witnesses and the informant and her family members were made accused.

(v) It was only after 18 days of effecting the arrest of the three accused, that the statement of deceased’s niece (“star witness”) was recorded by the Investigating Officer.

The Court observed that:

“It is quite strange and completely unfathomable as to how, where, why and at what point of time, the investigation that should have started against [Ruia and Kailash] took a u-turn and proceeded towards the very informant and her family members.”

Admissions of Investigating Officer and testimony of star witness

Right from the beginning, accused took the defence that they were implicated and actual accused were made witnesses due to political pressure. The Court found corroboration for this in Investigating Officer’s admission that when he took up the investigation, there were demonstrations held by political parties.

During cross-examination, the Investigating Officer had admitted that he was not aware as to whether Ruia and Kailash (accused named in the FIR) were in police custody or not at the time when he started the investigation. In any case, he did not arrest them after he took up the investigation. But interestingly, the star witness for the prosecution deposed that Ruia and Kailash were in fact arrested. She also revealed what happened thereafter. She told that when Ruia and Kailash were taken into arrest, there was strike in the mohalla and persons of Yadav community put pressure on police for releasing them.

That the case was foisted against the very informant and her family members due to political pressure was also borne out by another admission made by the Investigating Officer where he admitted that the Additional Superintendent of Police gave him verbal order that Ruia and Kailash be impleaded as witnesses instead of accused.

Investigation normally proceeds first against  accused named in FIR

The Court noted it remained unexplained that why the Investigation Officer did not even suspect the role of Ruia and Kailash in the commission of the crime. The Court was conscious of the facts that at times persons who commit the crime, themselves lodge FIR, so as to create alibi of innocence and misdirect investigation. But even in such cases, investigation would normally proceed first against those named as accused in the FIR and thereafter the needle of suspicion may turn against the informant himself.

Recovery of weapons

According to the Investigating Officer, weapons used in the crime were recovered and seized from the house of three accused in presence of witnesses. However, those witnesses did not support the prosecution. They stated that no weapons were seized in their presence.

Further, the Court noted that there was nothing on record to show that the blood stains said to have been present on the weapons, matched with blood of the deceased. The prosecution did not establish either through FSL report or otherwise, that the blood stains on the recovered knife and lathis were that of the deceased. Noting the divergence of judicial opinion on this aspect, the Court concluded that:

“[T]here cannot be any fixed formula that prosecution has to prove, or need not prove that the blood groups match. But the judicial conscience of the court should be satisfied both about the recovery and about the origin of the human blood.”

Burden on court where best legal assistance not available to accused

The Court noted that the accused were represented by amicus curiae either due to inability to engage a counsel or due to non-appearance of the counsel engaged by them at the time of hearing. As a result, the accused did not appear to have the best of legal assistance. The Court observed:

“It is in such type of cases that the burden of the court is very heavy and unfortunately, the Sessions Court and the High Court did not discharge this burden properly.”

Normal human conduct

The Court was of the view that the trial court as well as the High Court did not take into account the normal human conduct. The Court said it was unbelievable that the accused caused death of the deceased (their own family member) due to his failure to return Rs 250 to Ruia, and thereafter they deliberately named Ruia as accused.

It was equally unbelievable that one of the persons who killed the victim in the presence of witnesses, took his body to the hospital in an auto rickshaw. The Court observed that:

“The normal human behaviour in such circumstances will be either to flee the place of occurrence or to go the police station to surrender, except in cases where they are intelligent and seasoned criminals. Neither did happen.”

 Conclusion

The Court was of clear opinion that:

“[T]he investigation in this case was carried out by [the Investigation Officer], not with the intention of unearthing the truth, but for burying the same fathom deep, for extraneous considerations and that it was designed to turn the informant and her family members as the accused and allow the real culprits named in the FIR to escape.”

Technical ground and complete justice

Notably,  Accused 1 did not come up in appeal. However, the Court stated that the instant was a case where it did not proceed on the basis of individual overt acts, but the prosecution story in its entirety was disbelieved. Therefore, to deny the benefit of such conclusion to Accused 1 merely on ground of technicality that he was not in appeal would amount to closing eyes to gross injustice, especially when the Court was empowered to do complete justice under Article 142 of the Constitution.

Decision

In such view of the matter, the Court allowed the appeal and ordered that all three accused shall be released forthwith. [Madhav v. State of M.P., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 613, decided on 18-8-2021]


Tejaswi Pandit, Senior Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

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