The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of appellants in a murder case as the evidence supported the finding of a common intention to kill, beyond reasonable doubt. In this case, five were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder of a woman in Purulia, West Bengal. The incident occurred in 1993, and they were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

A two judge Bench of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal held that, “In the light of the above clinching evidence and in the absence of any specific lacuna in the testimony of the witnesses and the documentary evidence adduced, we are of the opinion that the trial court had not committed any error in convicting and sentencing the accused persons with imprisonment of life.”

All the accused had appealed their conviction to the Supreme Court after the trial court and the High Court upheld their sentences. The Supreme Court granted leave for appeal in 2014, and the appeal currently concerns only two of the accused.

The incident, as per the FIR filed occurred early in the morning. The accused surrounded the deceased and her daughter-in-law as they were returning from the pond after their daily ablutions. The accused were armed with weapons like tangi, tabala, and lathi. The deceased was brutally assaulted and died on the spot.

Advocate Ranjan Mukherjee appeared for the Appellants and Advocate Astha Sharma appeared for the Respondent.

The Court noted that the eye witnesses were cross-examined but remained credible and consistent in their accounts. Additionally, a chance witness, supported their version of events. The Court said, “It may be pertinent to mention here that all the aforesaid witnesses successfully stood the test of cross-examination and nothing could be extracted from them in crossexamination that could discredit their testimony. The credibility of the above witnesses is not in doubt and in fact they are wholly reliable witnesses in the facts and circumstances of the case.”

The doctor who conducted the post-mortem, confirmed the fatal injuries caused by sharp and blunt weapons.

The appellants had argued that they had no intention to kill and only wanted to teach the deceased a lesson about practicing witchcraft. However, the Court found their argument lacking merit as the evidence suggested a pre-planned attack with a common intention to harm or kill the deceased. The Court held, “Moreover, the nature of injuries which have been caused on the head of the deceased with the deadly weapons proves that they had assembled with the common intention and not merely to threaten her or to deter her from practicing witchcraft.”

The Court stated that even though two of the accused may not have directly participated in the assault, they were part of the group with a shared intention to harm the deceased. Thus, their conviction and sentencing were justified. The Court added, “Notwithstanding that two of the accused persons Bandhu Gorain (A-3) and Rajen Gorain (A-5) had no weapons with them or might not have assaulted the deceased but certainly they were part of the team that surrounded (gheraoed) the deceased with the common intention to kill after they had an altercation with her the previous night on the subject of practicing witchcraft.”

The Court also noted that two of the accused had served substantial portions of their sentences and could seek remission in line with state policy.

The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of A-1 and A-3, as their guilt was established beyond doubt. The appeal was dismissed, and the accused were permitted to seek remission based on their sentences' duration.

Cause Title: Bhaktu Gorain & Anr. v. The State Of West Bengal, [2023INSC821]

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