Requisitioning its services at the place of occurrence goes against prosecution
Contrary to popular belief that police sniffer dogs help in nabbing the accused, the calling of one such dog to the spot of a gruesome murder, in which the victim was chased for long and beheaded in full public view, has helped not one but 11 accused in obtaining an honourable acquittal from the trial court as well as the High Court.
The murder had taken place on April 12, 2000 when the then Chief Minister was scheduled to visit a locality near Mukkani Main Market within Arumuganeri police station limits in Tuticorin district. The time was about 8.45 pm. Yet, the area was well lit with numerous tube lights, in view of the Chief Minister’s visit. The murder victim, Sankarapandi, was chatting with his friend at an eatery.
The victim’s wife, minor daughter, sister-in-law and mother passed by the eatery after taking the child to a nearby clinic.
Then, they chanced upon the victim and informed him about the girl having fallen sick. Even as they were talking, five of his enemies armed with a knife and four sickles ran towards Sankarapandi and attempted to assault him on his neck. But the victim warded off the attack with his left hand.
On seeing this, his friend raised an alarm and faced the ire of the accused as they assaulted him too. In the melee, the victim took to his feet and ran towards Pallikooda Street. The accused chased him and they were followed by his wife and sister-in-law. Within minutes, seven other accused joined the gang and intercepted the victim who fell down in a vacant land.
The two helpless women cried for mercy. Yet, nothing deterred the accused from decapitating Sankarapandi. They walked down to the main road with the head and left it near Ambedkar Street before fleeing. The police registered a case at about 10.30 p.m. the same day on the basis of a joint complaint lodged by the two women and the victim’s friend.
During trial, the prosecution examined 24 witnesses, exhibited 39 documents and submitted 21 material objects to prove its case. The accused denied the charges. But did not examine any witness on their side. They also did not exhibit any document in their defence. Yet, the trial court acquitted all of them on April 7, 2006 for want of sufficient evidence.
Aggrieved against the acquittal, the State filed a criminal appeal in 2006 challenging the acquittal of the first five accused alone. In the same year, the victim’s wife, S. Ramalakshmi, filed a criminal revision petition challenging the acquittal of all the 11 accused. Dismissing both the cases now, a Division Bench of Justices M. Jaichandren and S. Nagamuthu confirmed the lower court judgement.
The judges agreed with senior counsel V. Kathirvelu, appearing for the accused, that the use of a sniffer dog at the place of occurrence causes a doubt over the veracity of the contents of the FIR. Stating that a dog would be normally used to find out unknown assailants, the judges said that the police failed to explain why the animal was used in the present case when the assailants were reportedly well known.
They also pointed out that the FIR contained the names of only five accused though the victim’s sister-in-law claimed, during cross examination, that she knew the names of all the 11 accused. Further, the victim’s friend had told a doctor, who treated him at about 3 a.m., that he was attacked by unknown assailants though the prosecution claimed that he had named the assailants in the FIR lodged before approaching the doctor.
Stating the victim’s friend had turned hostile before the trial court and the evidence adduced by the victim’s relatives were not reliable, the judges said that the prosecution had failed to find independent witnesses to support its case despite the occurrence having taken place in a busy locality.
“In view of the above improbabilities, more particularly, the arrival of the sniffer dog, the statement made by the victim’s friend to the doctor and all other attending circumstances, in our considered view, the lower court was right in holding that the wife, sister-in-law and mother of the victim would not have witnessed the occurrence at all,” the Bench said.