The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on Friday commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence awarded by the Lakhimpur-Kheri District and Sessions court to Pawan Kumar alias Monu Mittal in the Manjunath Shanmugham murder case.

While the High Court upheld the conviction of five other accused, two others were acquitted giving them the “benefit of doubt.”

The judgment was delivered in a packed courtroom by a Division Bench comprising Justice K.K. Mishra and Justice D.V. Sharma. Hearing in the case of Manjunath, who was an Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) officer, concluded in May 2009 and the judgment was reserved by the High Court.

In all, eight persons were convicted by the Lakhimpur-Kheri District and Sessions Judge S.M.A. Abidi in the judgment delivered on March 23, 2007.

The IOC sales officer Manjunath Shanmugham, an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow alumnus, was killed for taking action against the Mittal petrol pump in Gola of Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur-Kheri district for selling adulterated petrol.

While Mittal was awarded the death penalty, seven persons — Devesh Agnihotri, Rakesh Anand, Shivkesh Giri alias Lalla, Vivek Sharma, Rajesh Verma, Sanjay Awasthi and Harish Mishra — were given the life term.

The High Court ordered the commutation of the death sentence for Mittal to life imprisonment and upheld the life term awarded to Agnihotri, Anand, Giri, Sharma and Verma. Sanjay Awasthi and Harish Mishra were acquitted.

Ordering the acquittal of Awasthi and Mishra, the judgment said: “No concrete evidence has come to connect them with the crime...the prosecution failed to prove their guilt beyond [any] shadow of doubt…accordingly they are entitled to acquittal.”

Manjunath, considered an honest and upright officer, was shot dead on the night of November 19, 2005, in Gola. Prior to his murder, he had gone to seal the Mittal petrol station for selling adulterated petrol. The body, abandoned in his car, was recovered the next day from Maholi in Sitapur district.

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