6 Years On Death Row: SC Acquits 3 Accused, Laments 'Casual' Trial

Three former convicts will walk free after spending almost six years on death row. They have lost much more than time.

In 2014, a crime was committed when a family of six in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr district was murdered allegedly by four of their kin. The Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted the three who were accused of killing their family over an inheritance.

In the end, the shoddy persecution resulted in several lives being destroyed. The question that now remains—who killed those six people?

The case is about a family feud over the proprietorship of a brick kiln gone wrong. On January 23, 2014 — Momin Khan, his wife Nazra along with his cousin Jaikam and nephew Sajid were accused of committing the crime. The four of them were accused of fatally stabbing Momin's parents — Mausam and Asgari, brother Shaukeen, his wife Shanno and their two children — Samad and Muskan.

The prosecution's case had entirely rested on eyewitness accounts of two family members.

In 2016, the trial court convicted the four accused and sentenced all of them to death. Two years later, in 2018, the high court partly upheld the conviction—and the capital punishment—while acquitting Nazra.

BOOM looks at what the case is about and its fallout.

Also Read: Bombay HC Sets Aside Death Penalty For 3 in Shakti Mills Rape Case

Disappointed at the courts' casual approach to life and death matters: SC

The Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted the three death row convicts after concluding that the prosecution had "utterly failed" to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. In their judgment, the apex court expressed their dismay at the "casual" manner in which the sessions court in Bulandshahr considered the question of life and death of the accused.

The court observed that the observations of the Sessions Court were nothing but "conjectures and surmises" with no evidentiary support to them.

"The trial court and the High Court were expected to exercise a greater degree of scrutiny, care and circumspection while directing the accused to be hanged till death," the three-judge bench comprising Justices LN Rao, BR Gavai and B. Nagarathna said.

The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court observed that while considering the evidence in the case, the high court indulged in "an academic discussion with regard to the possibility, the preponderance of probability, a scientist conducting his experiments with great care, choosing between two or more possibilities, and preponderates of one over the other, etc."

"The law, however, that is fully settled, is that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," the bench simply put.

The Supreme Court referred to its judgment—authored by Justice HR Khanna, to remind itself and all courts of the golden principle that must be followed in criminal jurisprudence: "A criminal trial is not like a fairy tale wherein one is free to give flight to one's imagination and fantasy".

Also Read: Life Imprisonment In India: What Does Double Life Term Mean?

Human Cost of an imperfect system

The three former convicts will walk free after spending almost six years on death row. However, all three have lost much more than time.

When Momin and his wife Nazra were arrested for the murders in 2014, they had six children between the ages of 2-17. "Overnight the children lost their primary caregivers," said CP Shruthi, a mitigator with Project 39A—an advocacy group that works on the issue of the death penalty.

Shruthi's job entails interviewing prisoners and their families to prepare a mitigation report which is then used for drafting sentencing submissions for courts.

"Suddenly the oldest was responsible for the lives of the younger siblings. Even when they were taken in by their maternal uncle, they faced immense poverty and had to work in a lock factory to simply put food on the table," Shruthi added.

Talking about Momin, Shruthi said he was "reasonably successful" as a plumber in Delhi before returning to his ancestral home. But, after their arrest, all six children—even the youngest—were forced to work to make ends meet. Their life did not improve even after Nazra's release in 2018.

All the children were forced to drop out of school. The youngest, now eight, has never been to school.

The societal stigma and lack of knowledge of court procedures compounded the children's woes. Momin and Nazra's eldest daughter was married off to a much older man when she turned 17. At her in-laws' house, she often faces insults and abuses over her parents' deeds, Shruthi added.

In Jaikam and Sajid's case, their family lost two key members to incarceration and death row. Their grief could not be publicly validated which made it even more difficult for the family to process it, Shruthi told BOOM.

Advocate Amartya Kanjilal, who was part of the defence team that briefed two senior advocates Nitya Ramakrishnan and D Seshadri Naidu representing the three accused, told BOOM that this case exposes the inherent risk in a system that executes its people based upon convictions secured by an investigating and prosecuting machinery that can be fundamentally flawed.

"In high profile cases or crimes that are sensational, there is a tendency of lower courts to overlook crucial investigation lapses. In the present case, loopholes in the prosecution's case were unfortunately quite high," Kanjilal added.

"This case is also an example of the highest appellate reversing the wrongs of its subordinate courts by examining the evidence as per the correct principles of criminal law," he added.

Also Read: Nirbhaya Convicts Executed At Tihar Jail

Updated On: 2021-12-17T17:20:21+05:30
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