A murder suspect who had been given the death penalty by the trial court was acquitted last week by the Allahabad High Court bench of Justices Manoj Misra and Sameer Jain in the case of Ram Pratap @ Tillu v. State of UP.
The court ruled that even if motive and absconding may raise serious doubts, an accused person cannot be found guilty based solely on those two elements. While allowing the appeal and overturning the trial court’s decision, the court argued that because the case relied solely on circumstantial evidence, the appellant’s guilt could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The reference to confirm the death penalty is answered in negative and reference to confirm the death penalty awarded to accused-appellant Ram Pratap @ Tillu is rejected. The judgment and order of the trial court is set aside. The appellant Ram Pratap @ Tillu is acquitted of all the charges for which he has been tried. The appellant shall be released forthwith, unless wanted in any other case,” The Court Ordered
The decision was made in an appeal against a conviction for murder issued by the Additional Sessions Judge in Etawah, who sentenced the appellant to death and fined INR 5 lakh.
Six family members were brutally murdered due to a property dispute between two brothers, which gave rise to the case. The appellant was the brother of the deceased who, after selling all of his possessions, was pressuring his brother for money. The prosecution claimed that the appellant killed the deceased and his five family members with the assistance of a friend before running away.
The trial court found the appellant guilty after reviewing the evidence in the case, but cleared the co-accused. The death penalty was imposed after it was determined that the case belonged in the rarest of the rare category.
The appellant claimed that because there was no admissible evidence in the case, the trial court made a serious mistake by convicting him. The absence of eyewitness reports of the occurrence and the fact that the case was entirely supported by circumstantial evidence were both brought up in court.
Additionally, it was argued that the prosecution had utterly failed to establish the line of events that led to the incriminating circumstances.
The appellant cited the trial court’s strong emphasis on the crime’s motivation as well as his own later absconding as evidence. It was clarified, nonetheless, that these facts alone could not constitute a foundation for conviction.
The appellant argued that the evidence against him did not support the death penalty and that he was therefore entitled to be acquitted.
The division bench stated that although the case was based on circumstantial evidence and lacked eye witness testimony, instances in which a conviction might be recorded in a case based on circumstantial evidence were well established.
In support of this, reference was made to a Supreme Court decision in Shatrughna Baban Meshram Vs. State of Maharashtra, where the court noted and determined that despite the prosecution’s potential success in proving the motive and the appellant’s subsequent disappearance, it was unable to establish any other incriminating facts with certainty.
“Merely on the basis of motive and abscondence, though it may give rise to strong suspicion, the accused cannot be held guilty“,The Court Obsered
As a result, it was decided that the chain of events that would have proved the appellant’s guilt in the matter at hand was incomplete. As a result, the appellant deserved to be acquitted.
Advocates Agnivesh, Arimardan Yadav, and Jadu Nandan Yadav appeared on behalf of the appellant while Additional Advocate General Ram Naresh Singh represented the State.