Kerala HC sets aside death sentence of man accused of murder; grants him Rs 5L compensation

Gireesh Kumar
Gireesh Kumar

Kochi | The Kerala High Court on Wednesday 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.

The murder of Alice Varghese at Kundara in Kollam district was during a theft attempt, according to police report.

A bench of Justices A K Jayasankaran Nambiar and Syam Kumar V M said the prosecution failed to "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 -- Rs 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.

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.

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 Rs 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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