The Delhi High Court on Tuesday acquitted five men who were sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in a 2014 case of molestation and murder of a woman.

A Bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani extended the benefit of the doubt to the appellants and set aside the conviction and sentencing order passed by the trial court here in 2019, directing that they be released from custody forthwith.

The High Court stated that there were several material contradictions in the prosecution's case and if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in a case, the view favouring the innocence of the accused should be adopted.

"Accordingly, we are persuaded to extend to all the appellants benefit of doubt. We accordingly allow all five criminal appeals, thereby setting aside judgement of conviction dated 26.08.2019 and sentencing order dated 29.08.2019 made by the learned Trial Court", the Court held.

"We acquit all the appellants and direct that all the appellants be released from custody forthwith unless required in any other case," said the Bench.

The case of the prosecution was that on the intervening night of March 28 and 29, 2014, the appellants had molested and murdered a woman. It was alleged that some of the appellants made the deceased consume liquor and subsequently molested. Then they hit her on the head with a beer bottle, and brick and stone pieces, leading to her death.

The Court, while allowing the appeals against the trial court's decision, refused to accept as truthful the testimony of the prosecution's "star witness", a ragpicker.

"The prosecution's star witness is PW-1 Monu, who is stated to be a ragpicker operating in the area. While there is no cavil with the proposition that a conviction can be founded on the ocular testimony even of a sole eyewitness, it is equally settled that for this to happen, the testimony has to be cogent, credible, trustworthy and must have the 'ring of truth' in it," the Court said in its 44-page Judgment.

"On the touchstone of the cardinal principle of criminal jurisprudence that 'contradictions' in testimony are not acceptable, though 'discrepancies' may be, in view of what is observed above, we are not persuaded to accept PW-1's testimony as being truthful," it added.

The Court observed that "the time of death of the victim is also shrouded in mystery" and noted that "no beer bottle nor any shards of glass were recovered from the crime scene; nor were any traces of alcohol found in the victim's body during post-mortem".

It also observed that while the incident had occurred on the intervening night of March 28 and 29, 2014, according to the prosecution's case, four of the appellants were found wearing blood-stained clothes when they were arrested on April 4, 2014.

The Court remarked that "this is a circumstance that strains credulity". In any case, the Court said, no testing was conducted to establish any connection with the blood group of the deceased.

Click here to read/download Judgment

With PTI inputs