Supreme Court: In a big relief for three death row convicts, the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai* and BV Nagarathna, JJ has acquitted all of them of charges of killing 6 members of their family after it was found that the prosecution had failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.
The Prosecution story
It was Prosecution’s case that, on 23rd January, 2014, at around 8.30 p.m., Momin Khan, with his wife Nazra, along with Jaikam Khan (first cousin) and Sajid (Jaikam Khan’s son) came armed with knives and assaulted Mausam Khan (father – 85 years), Asgari (mother – 80 years), Shaukeen Khan (brother), Shanno (sister-in¬law- 30 years), Samad (nephew – 8 years) and Muskan (niece-15 years) and killed them brutally.
The verdicts by the Trial Court and the Allahabad High Court
Vide judgment and order dated 2nd January, 2016, the Trial Court convicted all the four accused for the offence punishable under Section 302/34 of the IPC and sentenced them to death vide order dated 11th January, 2016. Momin, Jaikam and Sajid were also convicted for the offence punishable under Section 25/4 of the Arms Act and awarded rigorous imprisonment for a term of three years with a fine of Rupees Five Thousand and in case of default, they were to undergo additional imprisonment for a term of three months.
While the conviction and sentence imposed on Momin, Jaikam and Sajid was affirmed, Nazra was acquitted by the High Court.
The inconsistencies and lacunae in the prosecution case
- The two witnesses were found to be interested witnesses and their testimony was found ‘neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable’ as though they could have witnessed the assault two victims, it was difficult to believe that they could have witnessed the assault on the other four deceased persons as allegedly the accused had murdered six deceased at different places of the house.
- As per the prosecution version, the main motive behind the crime was the dispute over the management of the brick¬kiln between the accused Momin Khan on one hand and deceased Mausam Khan, deceased Shaukeen Khan and P.W.1-Ali Sher Khan on the other hand. However, as per the
- P.W.1 Ali Sher Khan(Shaukeen Khan’s brother) and P.W.2 Jaan Mohammad (Ali Sher Khan’s brother-in-law) had admitted that Jaikam Khan and Sajid had nothing to do with the brick kiln business of deceased Mausam Khan nor was there any dispute between them. Hence, with regard to Jaikam Khan and Sajid, the prosecution has utterly failed to prove any motive and has also failed to prove any strong motive insofar as Momin Khan is concerned.
- According to P.W.1¬Ali Sher Khan and P.W.2¬ Jaan Mohammad, a large number of villagers had gathered at the spot after the incident. However, none of the independent witnesses have been examined by the prosecution. Since the witnesses examined on behalf of the prosecution were interested witnesses, non¬examination of independent witnesses, though available, made the prosecution version doubtful.
- Though fingerprints were taken at the spot, the fingerprint expert’s report was not placed on record.
- Though the IO had come to the spot with the dog squad, report of the dog squad was also not placed on record.
- The assertion of P.W.1¬Ali Sher Khan and P.W.2-Jaan Mohammad that they together had gone to the police station to lodge the report, was also contradicted by the evidence of the Constable Clerk at the police station. Further, not informing the Police on phone, despite having mobile phones, also casts a serious doubt with regard to the genuineness of the prosecution case.
“Shocked” and “amazed” at the findings of the Trial Court and the High Court
Referring to a paragraph of the Trial Court’s judgment, the Court said it was “shocked” at the finding and that,
“The narration makes for an interesting reading as a story. However, all the observations are nothing but conjectures and surmises, without there being any evidentiary support to them. It is really surprising, as to how the Additional Sessions Judge could have dealt with the present case in such a casual manner when he was considering the question of life and death of four accused.”
The Court was also “amazed” by the manner in which the High court has dealt with the present matter as it had attempted to put a burden on the accused, which, as per the well settled law, does not shift unless prosecution has proved the case beyond reasonable doubt.
The Court observed,
“While coming to the conclusion that the prosecution has failed to bring home the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, we are at pains to observe the manner in which the present case has been dealt with by the trial court as well as by the High Court, particularly, when the trial court awarded death penalty to the accused and the High Court confirmed it. The trial court and the High Court were expected to exercise a greater degree of scrutiny, care and circumspection while directing the accused to be hanged till death.”
All death row convicts walk free
Finding that the prosecution had utterly failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt, the Court held that the conviction and death sentence imposed on the accused was totally unsustainable in law. The Court, hence, acquitted all three convicts of the charges and ordered their release.
[Jaikam Khan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1256, decided on 15.12.2021]
For appellants: Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, Advocate Dama Seshadri Naidu,
For P.W.1: Advocate Anant Agarwal
For State: Additional Advocate General Vinod Diwakar
*Judgment by: Justice BR Gavai