Conviction for murder on circumstantial evidence

Facts of the case:

After death of her husband, Meena Devi was living with her children viz. Jeewan Lal (PW-1) and Rekha Devi (PW-2) along with the accused Raj Kumar in the joint family. In their evidence, PW-1 and PW-2 clearly stated that on 23.08.2007, respondent came in drunkard condition and threatened to kill them. Jeewan Lal (PW-1) who is the son of deceased Meena Devi clearly stated that he had heard the cries of his mother and also seen accused taking his mother towards the house of accused Om Parkash. On 25.08.2007, body of Meena Devi was found hanging from a pine tree in the nearby forest. PW-24-Dr. Vivek Banyal who conducted the autopsy has clearly said that “anti-mortem injuries were caused due to gagging and hanging process of dead body was post-mortem”.

Evidence of the case

12. In his evidence, Jeewan Lal (PW-1) stated that he was threatened by the accused Om Parkash to make telephonic call to his maternal uncle Anant Ram (PW-3) that Meena Devi had run away from the house and under such threat Jeewan Lal (PW-1) informed Anant Ram (PW-3) accordingly. After Anant Ram (PW-3) came to the village at 02.00 a.m. on 24.08.2007, PW-1 and PW-3 went to P.P. Dharampur and informed them about missing of Meena Devi. Meena Devi was living with her brother-in-law/accused along with her children. If Meena Devi was so missing, the natural conduct of the accused was to inform the police and also Anant Ram (PW-3). But that was not done. In view of Section 106 of the Evidence Act, burden is cast upon the accused, being the inmate of the house to give a cogent explanation as to how Meena Devi died. No reasonable explanation is forthcoming from the accused as to why he had neither lodged the complaint nor informed the police about the missing of Meena Devi. The respondent-accused being inmate of the house cannot get away by simply keeping quiet and offering no explanation. This is a strong militating circumstance against the respondent indicating that he might be responsible for the commission of the offence.

13. The motive attributed to the accused is that he had frequently quarrelled with the deceased and also assaulted her. A dispute is also suggested pertaining to the land of one Swami who wanted to give his property solely to the deceased Meena Devi which was not acceptable to the accused. Yet another motive attributed to the accused was his greed for the fxed deposit of Rs.1,20,000/- which had become due payable to the deceased on 13.08.2007. PW-15 Bhindra Devi, sister-in-law of the deceased in her evidence had clearly stated that as and when Meena Devi visited her house, Meena Devi used to tell her about the suffering meted out to her by the accused Raj Kumar. Further, Bhindra Devi (PW-15) had clearly spoken about the motive attributed to the accused. From the evidence of PW-15, it is brought out that the accused Raj Kumar is a chronic drunkard. On previous occasion, respondent-accused had beaten Meena Devi and he had entered into compromise with Meena Devi by assuring her that he would not beat her in future. Evidence of PW-15 as to the motive attributed to the accused was not properly appreciated by the High Court.

14. Jeewan Lal (PW-1) has clearly spoken as to the attack on Meena Devi by the accused on the night of 23.08.2007 and the subsequent threat to PW-1 by the accused and one Om Prakash. The trial court which had the opportunity of seeing and observing demeanour of the witnesses held that Jeewan Lal (PW-1) is a trustworthy witness. While so, the High Court was not right in doubting the version of Jeewan Lal (PW-1) on the ground that PW-1 made improvements in his version. In his statement (Ex.P/A) dated 25.08.2007, Jeewan Lal (PW-1) did not disclose the participation qua accused Nos. 2 and 3 namely Ramesh Kumar and Om Parkash in the commission of the offence. Evidence of Jeewan Lal (PW-1) cannot be doubted simply because names of Ramesh Kumar and Om Prakash were not mentioned in his statement recorded on 25.08.2007 immediately after bringing down the hanging body of Meena Devi from the tree. The circumstances in which PW-1 was placed at that time, is to be kept in view. PW-1 was only aged nineteen years. On the night of 23.08.2007, he had heard the cries of his mother at the time when she was beaten. PW-1 and PW-3 had been searching for Meena Devi for more than twenty four hours that is from 24.08.2007 to 25.08.2007, only to fnd her dead. PW-1 was already threatened by accused Om Parkash to inform Anant Ram (PW-3) that Meena Devi had run away. On 25.08.2007, when PW-1’s statement was recorded, he must have been in trauma and fear psychosis. In such circumstances, omission to mention the names of Om Parkash and Ramesh Kumar in his statement (Ex.P/A) does not render PW-1’s evidence untrustworthy. Upon proper appreciation of the evidence, the trial court observed that evidence of PW-1 inspires confdence of the court. While so, in our view, the High Court ought not to have doubted the version of PW-1 and his credibility.

15. While appreciating the evidence of a witness, the approach must be whether the evidence of the witness read as a whole appears to be truthful in the given circumstances of the case. Once that impression is formed, it is necessary for the court to scrutinize the evidence more particularly keeping in view the drawbacks and infirmities pointed out in the evidence and evaluate them to fnd out whether it is against the general tenor of the prosecution case. Jeewan Lal (PW-1) is the son of the deceased Meena Devi residing with her and the accused in the same house, and a natural witness to speak about the occurrence. Evidence of PW-1 is cogent and natural and is consistent with the prosecution case. The High Court was not right in doubting the evidence of PW-1 on the ground of alleged improvements made by Jeewan Lal (PW-1) and rejecting his evidence on the premise that there were certain improvements.

16. As pointed out by the Sessions Judge, deceased Meena Devi was last seen alive in the company of accused Raj Kumar and the accused did not satisfactorily explain the missing of deceased Meena Devi and the same is a strong militating circumstance against the accused. Meena Devi who was residing in the same house with the accused and was last seen alive with the accused, it is for him to explain how the deceased died. The accused has no reasonable explanation as to how the body of Meena Devi was found hanging from the tree. As held in Kashi Ram case, it is for the accused to explain as to what happened to the deceased. If the accused does not throw light on the fact which is within his knowledge, his failure to offer any explanation would be a strong militating circumstance against him.

17. As pointed out earlier, in his questioning under Section 313 Cr.P.C., the accused simply denied the evidence of incriminating circumstance put to him and pleaded that he is innocent. A feeble attempt was made by the defence to suggest that the deceased consumed poison and committed suicide. Viscera of deceased Meena Devi was sent to FSL Tungand. As per FSL report, no poison was detected in the viscera of the deceased. In our considered view, the trial court rightly rejected the plea suggested by the defence.

18. As pointed out earlier, in a catena of judgments, this Court held that when conviction is based on circumstantial evidence, there should not be any gap in the chain of circumstances; the accused is entitled to the beneft of doubt. In the present case, by cogent and convincing evidence, prosecution has established the circumstances:- (i) Motive (evidence of PW-15); (ii) accused beating the deceased and taking her away (Evidence of PW-1); (iii) Death of Meena Devi is homicidal (evidence of PW-24); (iv) Conduct of accused in not reporting to the police about missing of the deceased Meena Devi; and (v) Absence of explanation from the accused as to the death of the deceased. The circumstances relied upon by the prosecution are proved by cogent and reliable evidence. The circumstances cumulatively taken form a complete chain pointing out that the murder was committed by the accused and none-else.

[Source: State Of Himachal Pradesh vs Raj Kumar, decided by SC on 8 January, 2018]
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