SC acquits three on death row for 2014 murder, pulls up HC & trial court

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The Supreme Court has acquitted three death row convicts from Uttar Pradesh, and said the trial court that awarded them the death penalty and the Allahabad High Court that confirmed it “were expected to exercise a greater degree of scrutiny, care and circumspection while directing the accused to be hanged till death”.

“We are amazed by the manner in which the High Court has dealt with the present matter,” a Bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna said on Wednesday while acquitting Jaikam Khan (68), his son Sajid (27), and Jaikam’s cousin Momin Khan (53) for the murder of six of their family members in Bulandshahr in 2014.

The three were accused of murdering Momin’s father Mausam Khan (85), mother Asgari (80), his eldest brother Shaukeen (55 years), sister-in-law Shanno Begum (50), nephew Samad (12), and niece Muskan (14) in Pilkhana village on the evening of January 23, 2014. The murder charges were filed based on a complaint from Ali Sher Khan, one of Momin’s brothers, who claimed to have witnessed it along with his brother-in-law Jaan Mohammad.

According to Jaikam’s son Navi Alam (31), his father and younger brother were falsely implicated in the case because of a dispute in his uncle’s family over their business. Momin and Ali Sher Khan’s father owned a brick kiln, which is now closed.

“There was a dispute going on in Momin’s family. After the murder, they falsely implicated my father and brother in the case. We did not lose hope and fought the case with all our effort, and, finally, justice has been delivered,” Alam told The Indian Express from Bengaluru on Thursday.

Apart from Jaikam and Sajid, Ali Sher Khan got an FIR registered against Momin and his wife Nazra Begum too at the Narora police station. The police investigated and filed chargesheet against all four persons in March 2014. The Bulandshahr sessions court sentenced all four to death in January 2016. They challenged the verdict in the Allahabad High Court. In May 2018 the high court upheld the death sentence of the three men and acquitted Nazra. The following year, in August, all three men were shifted to the Agra Central Jail after which they appealed the verdict in the Supreme Court.

In its judgement, the top court observed, “As already discussed hereinabove, we are of the view that though P.W.1 Ali Sher Khan could have witnessed the assault on deceased Shaukeen Khan and P.W.2 Jaan Mohammad could have witnessed the assault on deceased Shaukeen Khan and deceased Mausam Khan, it is difficult to believe that they could have witnessed the assault on the other four deceased persons. We are also of the view that the said witnesses cannot be said to be wholly unreliable. They would fall in the category of ‘neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable’ and as such, we are of the view that a greater degree of care and caution would be required and a corroboration in material particulars by reliable testimony, direct or circumstantial, would be necessary to pass an order of conviction.”

It added, “While coming to the conclusion that the prosecution has failed to bring home the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, we are at pains to observe the manner in which the present case has been dealt with by the trial court as well as by the High Court, particularly, when the trial court awarded death penalty to the accused and the High Court confirmed it. The trial court and the High Court were expected to exercise a greater degree of scrutiny, care and circumspection while directing the accused to be hanged till death.”

Alam, who works as a carpenter in Bengaluru, said that on coming to know about the Supreme Court verdict he immediately called up his mother Hasmatia Begum in Pilkhana village to give her the good news. “After my lawyer gave me the good news on Wednesday, I first called my 62-year-old mother and shared the information with her. Later, I called up other relatives. We are thankful to the Supreme Court for putting our family back together,” he added.

The Agra prison administration, however, said on Thursday it had not yet received orders to release the three men.

Meanwhile, the acquittal was all that the residents of Pilkhana seemed to be talking about on Thursday.
“We came to know about the judgement today morning through a newspaper. Everyone is talking about the incident that took place in 2014. The incident was a great shock for us because there was no criminal record of the family. We are all happy with yesterday’s judgment,” said village pradhan Gurmeet Singh.

While Jaikam’s family still lives in the village, Momin’s brothers Ali and Kallu Khan have moved out and their parental home is locked. When asked about Nazra, the villagers said they had not seen her since she got out of prison and added that she might be in Aligarh with her relatives.

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