A woman found murdered, her jewellery gone missing and her two neighbours arrested after their “confession” — what the Kerala Police built as an open-and-shut case was torn apart by the Supreme Court, which maintained that circumstantial evidence should leave absolutely no room for doubt.
“In a case resting on circumstantial evidence, the prosecution must establish a complete unbroken chain of events leading to the determination that the inference being drawn from the evidence is the only inescapable conclusion,” said the apex court bench of Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly and Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar in their judgment Friday.
The court said this while acquitting Madhu Kalikutty Panicker and Sibi Bhaskaran, who were accused of killing their neighbour Padmini Devi and robbing her jewellery in Veliyanad village of Kerala’s Alappuzha district.
The circumstantial evidence relied upon by the prosecution was the confession made by Panicker and Bhaskaran before the police, their presence near the place of crime and recovery of Padimini’s ornaments at their behest.
While a local court and the Kerala High Court convicted the two, the Supreme Court remained sceptical.
Referring to Section 25 and Section 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, the bench said the confessional statement made by an accused to a police officer or while in custody may be a result of “coercion or threat”.
The court said that the exception provided under Section 27 of the act came into play only if it leads to unearthing of hitherto unknown facts, which was not the case in this instance.
Therefore, the judgment said, the inadmissibility of the confessional statement of Panicker and Bhaskaran removes the most vital link in the chain of events sought to be established by the prosecution.
The court also dismissed the argument that the two were guilty as they were near the scene of crime, saying it was not unusual as they were neighbours.
It also doubted the police’s claim that the two pointed out where the stolen jewellery was buried.
The recovery of Padmini’s body also showed that her earrings were not removed, which erased the argument that the two wanted to rob her jewellery, the court added.
While acquitting Panicker, who had moved the court, the bench also acquitted Bhaskaran, holding that “if Sibi had preferred an appeal, the result would have been exactly the same”.
Earlier, the sessions judge sentenced Panicker and Bhaskaran to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.25,000 under Section 392 of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for robbery).
The two were also sentenced to imprisonment for life under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for murder). The sessions judge had directed that the sentences would be suffered successively, that is one after the other.
The Kerala High Court, while upholding the conviction, modified the trial court order by directing that the sentences would run concurrently.