Trial court ignored settled law in awarding death to accused in Dr Subbaiah murder: Madras HC

The tendency of the investigating officer to create evidence in the form of witnesses to suit their case made it highly unsafe to render a finding of guilt, the bench said.
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

CHENNAI: The Madras HC has held that the trial court, which had awarded death penalty to seven and life imprisonment to two accused, in the murder of renowned neuro-surgeon Dr SD Subbaiah, had adopted a callous approach in failing to appreciate evidence and disregarded well-settled legal propositions while awarding the maximum punishment.

The division bench of justices MS Ramesh and Sunder Mohan, which pronounced the verdict on June 14, acquitting all the convicts in the sensational murder case, said, “the corroboration offered by the prosecution is totally unreliable so as to record a conviction of guilt of the accused.”

The bench pointed out to the strange manner in which the witnesses brought in by the prosecution had overheard the minute details of the conspiracy meetings and kept it to themselves for a long time, but suddenly appeared before the investigating officer later. It said all such matters made the court conclude that the conviction by the lower court cannot be upheld although there was grave suspicion against some of the accused.

The tendency of the investigating officer to create evidence in the form of witnesses to suit their case made it highly unsafe to render a finding of guilt, the bench said.

It reasoned that the evidence adduced on the side of the prosecution at best led to a grave suspicion against some of the accused and did not pass the test of proof beyond reasonable doubt. “It is trite that suspicion, however high, cannot take the place of proof.” the bench said.

The bench passed the benefit of doubt to the accused. “For the above reasons, we are of the view that the prosecution has failed to establish its case beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the appellants/accused are entitled to benefit of doubt.”

On the imposition of death sentence on the seven accused, the bench noted that the trial court failed to adhere to the legal ratio of weighing the ‘aggravating circumstances’ against the ‘mitigating circumstances’ as has been consistently followed by the Supreme Court after imposing such guidelines. The trial court had rather curiously made an observation that there were no mitigating circumstances to show leniency. While holding so, the trial court “lost sight of the defense case that the assailants in this case did not have any previous antecedents” and all of them had “decent educational qualifications,” the bench said.

Finding fault with the trial court’s attempt to justify the imposition of death penalty by relying on the judgment in the Mohammad Amir Kasab case relating to the terrorist attack on the innocent public in Mumbai, the bench said that was an act of terrorism where 166 innocent people were killed.

Referring to the allegations of bias in holding the investigations since then DCP Balakrishnan was the would-be son-in-law of deceased Subbaiah, the bench said such allegations ‘cannot be brushed aside’. Senior advocates, including R Shunmugasundaram, B Gopalakrishna Lakshmana Raju, R John Sathyan represented the convicts in the case.

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