The Madras High Court Bench here has set aside the conviction and life sentence imposed on nine persons for allegedly burning an unidentified beggar to death inside a cremation ground at Puduvayal in Sivaganga district on October 16, 1994 after suspecting him to be a child kidnapper.

Allowing the criminal appeals filed by all the nine persons, a Division Bench comprising Justice P. Murgesen and Justice Raja Elango said that the conviction and sentence imposed on the appellants, by the trial court in July 2004, could not be sustained due to several infirmities in the prosecution case.

The prosecution case was that a group of over 30 villagers dragged the beggar, who was around 42-year-old and 5 feet tall, to a local cremation ground in the presence of a sub-inspector of police and his subordinates.

The mob pelted stones at the police personnel and prevented them from interfering with their activities.

The villagers assaulted the victim with deadly weapons such as iron rods and wooden logs. Thereafter, they set him on fire by pouring petrol. The policemen could put off the fire only after the mob left the cremation ground. But they could not save the beggar who lost his life due to the burn injuries.

A case was registered against 33 persons of whom five were declared absconding. Only 28 of them faced trial before the Additional District Court at Sivaganga. The court in 2004 sentenced nine persons to life imprisonment after convicting them under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code and hence the present appeal.

Finding force in the arguments advanced by the appellants’ counsel, the Division Bench raised doubts over the veracity of the contents in the First Information Report because it could not have been possible for the police to name all the 28 accused along with their initials within a few minutes of the incident.

Moreover, almost all the prosecution witnesses had turned hostile before the trial court except two constables. There was material contradiction in the evidence adduced by those two constables too. The police had also failed to conduct an identification parade before filing the charge sheet in the case, the judges said.

More In: Madurai