Kerala High Court sets aside death sentence of man accused of murder; grants him ₹5 lakh compensation

While acquitting Kumar, the High Court also noted that he had undergone imprisonment for 10 years since 2013, when he was arrested, and was sentenced to death in 2018.

BySouth First Desk

Published Jul 04, 2024 | 11:56 AM Updated Jul 04, 2024 | 11:56 AM

Kerala High Court

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday, 3 July, set aside the conviction and death sentence given to a man for the murder of a 57-year-old woman in 2013, saying there was no evidence before the trial court to convict him for any of the offences alleged against him or even give him capital punishment.

A bench of Justices AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Syam Kumar VM said the prosecution failed to “put forth legally tenable evidence to prove any of the charges laid against the appellant.”

While acquitting him, the court also awarded the appellant— Gireesh Kumar— ₹5 lakh as compensation for his 10-year-long incarceration most of which he spent with “the threat of death sentence” looming over him.

The bench, allowing Kumar’s appeal against his conviction and death sentence, observed that the circumstantial evidence in the case fails to unerringly point towards him as the perpetrator of the crime and his claim that witnesses and evidence were planted by the police “cannot be brushed aside”.

While acquitting Kumar, the High Court also noted that he had undergone imprisonment for 10 years since 2013, when he was arrested, and was sentenced to death in 2018.

“… all through his long incarceration the imminence of death had been looming upon him,” it added.

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Court orders

The bench said that the liberty and freedoms guaranteed to a citizen under the Indian constitution cannot be rendered so fragile, flimsy and trifling that they could be taken away by “quixotic incrimination in criminal offenses which is followed up with a slipshod investigation and an improper appreciation of evidence which imposes the highest of all punishments, of death upon him”.

The High Court said that the faith that the general public reposes on the system is not only eroded by such incidents but it strikes at the very root of the edifice of rule of law on which this republic rests.

“This is true even with respect to a citizen with allegedly doubtful antecedents,” it added.

Compensation for violation of rights

The bench further noted that in the instant case where the appellant was forced to undergo incarceration for around ten years that too on a death row “only due to the systemic failure of the different limbs of the state apparatus including the investigation agencies as well as the judiciary”, the ends of justice will be met only if the State is directed to compensate him for the violation of his fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The High Court said that even though there was no reason to array him as an accused in the first place, Kumar had to suffer the ignominy of incarceration for 10 years and for the most part of it there was the threat of a death sentence looming over him.

“Accordingly, we deem it fit to direct the state government to pay to the appellant (Kumar) an amount of ₹5,00,000 towards compensation on the above count, which amount shall be paid to him within a period of three months from the date of this judgment,” the bench said.

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The case

As per the case, the appellant had trespassed into the house of Alice Varghese alias Ponnamma, aged 57 years, with the intention to commit rape and robbery and that after committing those crimes, caused her gruesome death and decamped with articles worth ₹6 lakh.

It was the Kundara Police who registered the case on 13 June, 2013. The appellant was arrested by the then CI of Police, Kundara Police Station on 25 June, 2013.

The trial court, First Additional Sessions Court, Kollam, found the accused guilty and sentenced them to death under section 302 IPC and to undergo imprisonment for life for the offence under Section 449 IPC, to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years and to pay a fine of ₹1 lakh, and in default, undergo simple imprisonment for six months under Section 394 of the IPC, as well as rigorous imprisonment for one year under Section 461 of IPC.

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