The Madras High Court on Friday set aside the conviction and life sentence imposed by a Mahila Court in a murder case after observing that the entire prosecution case rested on circumstantial evidence, owing to the absence of any eyewitness, and that the police had miserably failed to elevate their case from the realm of ‘may be true’ to ‘must be true’, which was indispensable for confirming the conviction in criminal cases.
Justices S. Vaidyanathan and A.D. Jagadish Chandira wrote, “In a case of circumstantial evidence, when two views are possible — one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other his innocence — the accused is entitled to the benefit of the one favourable to him. Though materials on record lead to some suspicion towards the appellant, it is trite to state that in a criminal trial, suspicion, howsoever grave, cannot substitute proof.”
The observations were made while the court allowed the appeal preferred in 2018 by S. Raman against his conviction and the life sentence imposed on him by the Namakkal Mahila Court for the charge of murdering 27-year-old milk vendor M. Sakthivel in 2016 because they both were in love with the same woman. The judges held that the prosecution had proved neither the motive nor the last-seen theory. Even recovery of weapons was not proved.
They pointed out that in a case of circumstantial evidence, it was essential for the prosecution to prove a chain of events leading to an inevitable conclusion that none but the accused could have committed the crime. In that chain, it was essential to prove that the deceased was seen last along with the accused. In the present case, unfortunately, none of the witnesses had spoken about having seen the deceased along with the accused before the crime.
Further, a person from whose shop the appellant as well as his accomplice, a juvenile in conflict with law, had purchased two knives that were reportedly used to stab the deceased, had deposed before the trial court that he visited the police station on February 17, 2016 and identified the weapons. On the other hand, it was the case of the police that they had recovered the weapons and handed them over to a magistrate on February 15, 2016 itself.
“If that is so, then totally four knives are involved in the case and it creates serious doubts in the prosecution case. Further, two prosecution witnesses had deposed that two blood stained knives were seized from the place of occurrence but as per the complaint, only one blood stained knife was found near the body of the deceased. Even in the inquest report, only one blood stained knife was found,” the judges said, doubting the prosecution’s version on recovery of weapons.
They also pointed out that the woman with whom the deceased as well as the appellant were reportedly in love had not supported the prosecution case and denied that the deceased ever gave a love letter to her. “On an overall analysis of the evidence placed on record, we come to the irresistible conclusion that the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubts. The appellant is entitled to the benefit of doubt.”