The Supreme Court on Thursday while acquitting the five-murder accused observed that conviction cannot be based solely on extra-judicial confession if not duly proved.

The Bench of CJI UU Lalit and Justice Bela M. Trivedi set aside the 2016 judgment of the Madras High Court which had confirmed the verdict of a Trial Court convicting and awarding life term to five persons in a murder case.

The Court observed –

"It cannot be gainsaid that when the extra judicial confession is not duly proved, or does not inspire confidence or is not corroborated by any other reliable evidence, the conviction could not be based solely on such weak piece of evidence."

The Court noted in its judgment that heavy reliance was placed by the Prosecution on the alleged extra-judicial confession made by one of the accused through a letter addressed to one of the prosecution witnesses in the case.

The Court observed, "In the instant case, the prosecution having not examined the handwriting expert for proving the handwritings of the accused no.1 contained in the Inland letter allegedly addressed to the PW-19, nor any expert's opinion having been obtained, in our opinion, the High Court had rightly discarded the said piece of evidence with regard to the alleged extra judicial confession made by the accused no.1."

According to the Prosecution, in July 2007, the accused had conspired and planned to commit dacoity of an Ambassador car and commit murder of the driver of the vehicle.

It was alleged that man was murdered by the accused and they buried his body in a pit.

The car was sold by the accused and they shared the sale proceeds of the vehicle, the police had claimed.

The investigating officer had filed a charge sheet in the case against the five accused and they were later convicted and sentenced by a trial court in Coimbatore.

In its verdict, the Apex Court noted it may be stated that the entire case of prosecution rested on the circumstantial evidence and the law with regard to the appreciation of evidence when the case hinges on circumstantial evidence is very well-settled.

It said one of the circumstances on which the police had placed heavy reliance was with regard to the theory of last seen together, relying upon the evidence of two of the prosecution witnesses.

"When there was huge time gap of about more than six months between the date of the incident and the date of recording of statements of witnesses by the investigating officer, the Test Identification (TI) Parade would have assisted the police in identifying the accused seen by the PW-7 (prosecution witness), however no such TI parade was held by the investigating officer," the bench said.

The Court held that the failure of the accused, in a case based on circumstantial evidence which included the last seen together theory, to explain as to under what circumstances the victim suffered death, would also not be a ground to arrive at an irresistible conclusion that the accused were involved in the commission of the alleged crime.

The Court observed that one of the circumstances relied upon by the prosecution was the identification of the body.

It noted that the corpus, when found, was in a highly-decomposed condition and the skeletal remains were found almost five months from the date of the incident of the victim had gone missing.

"In the present case, since the super-imposition report was not supported by any other reliable medical evidence like a DNA report or post-mortem report, it would be very risky to convict the accused believing the identification of the dead body of the victim through the super-imposition test," the Bench noted.

The Court held that as the prosecution has failed to establish through clinching and cogent evidence, the chain of events on the basis of which the guilt of the accused could be established, the courts below had committed an error in accepting its case and convicting them for the alleged crime.

"In that view of the matter, the judgements and orders of conviction and sentence passed by the trial court and confirmed by the high court are set aside," the Court held.

Cause Title – S. Kaleeswaran & Ors. v. State by the Inspector of Police Pollachi Town, East Police Station, Coimbatore District, Tamil Nadu

Click here to read/download the Judgment

With PTI Inputs