“Gruesome nature alone no criterion to confirm conviction”

The Madras High Court Bench here has set aside convictions and life sentences imposed by a lower court on six individuals in a double murder case by stating that gruesome nature of the murders alone cannot be a criterion to confirm the conviction sans sufficient evidence.

Allowing a joint criminal appeal filed by them, a Division Bench of Justice M. Jaichandren and Justice S. Nagamuthu held that fair trial as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution required proof of guilt beyond all reasonable doubts. But the prosecution had failed to prove so in the present case. The murders had taken place within Muthiahpuram police station limits in Tuticorin district on July 6, 1996. It was the result of a land dispute between two individuals, Gnanaraj Nadar and Mookandi Nadar of Mullakadu village. The deceased Boologaraj and Balasankar were supporters of Mookandi Nadar.

According to the prosecution, a total of nine individuals, including the present appellants P. Velmurugan, A. Selvamuthu, T. Muthu Thangaiah, A. Muthuraj, J. Muthuraja and P. Uthayakumar met at Madasamy Temple in the village two days prior to the incident and conspired to kill the duo belonging to the rival camp. They waylaid the victims as per their plan and hacked them to death. The brother of Mookandi Nadar had witnessed the occurrence from a distance of about one furlong and confirmed that it was the appellants who had committed the offence through three others who supposedly witnessed the crime from close quarters.

However, the three individuals turned hostile before the trial court which, nevertheless, convicted the six appellants alone on the basis of evidence adduced by the sole “eye witness” (Mookandi’s brother) who supported the prosecution case but said that he did not see the face of the offenders due to the long distance.

Not finding it safe to confirm the conviction on the basis of the evidence adduced by a witness who was not sure about the identity of the offenders, the Bench agreed with appellants’ counsel R. Anand that there was no other clinching material available with the prosecution to prove their involvement.

On the prosecution’s contention that they had recovered weapons, purportedly used for committing the crime, on the basis of confession statements given by some of the accused, the judges said that mere recovery would not be sufficient unless there were materials to prove the use of those weapons in the crime.

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