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All six persons were awarded the death penalty by the trial court. The High Court found that the prosecution had failed to link the circumstances which would have unerringly pointed towards Chinnasamy's guilt.
The Madras High Court on Monday set aside the death penalty awarded to various accused in the Udamalpet Shankar murder case, also finding that the prosecution had failed to prove that the murder originated from a conspiracy for honour killing by Shankar's father-in-law.
The ruling was passed by a Division Bench of Justices M Sathyanarayanan and B Nirmal Kumar.
The attack had been carried out on the afternoon of March 13, 2016 against both Kousalya and her husband Shankar. Kousalya belonged to the Thevar Piraimalai Kallar caste, whereas Shankar belonged to the Pallar Community, a Scheduled Caste community. He succumbed to the stab injuries inflicted by five assailants.
Kousalya survived the murder attempt and went on to become the lead prosecution witness in the case against her parents and others for the murder of her husband.
On Monday, the conviction of the five assailants who had carried out the murder was upheld by the High Court. In lieu of the trial court's death penalty, they were sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment with a condition of a minimum of 25 years' imprisonment without remission.
However, the Court found that the prosecution had failed to prove that the caste-killing had been carried out on directions from Kousalya's father, Chinnasamy.
In this regard, the Bench found that the prosecution's evidence as regards phone calls made between Chinnasamy and the five assailants who executed the murder did not sufficiently disclose any conspiracy to carry out the murder.
Whereas certain witnesses stated that they had seen Chinnasamy conspiring with the five assailants in a park 20 days before the murder, the Bench expressed its doubts over the credibility of the said witness testimony.
In this regard, the Court noted that the witnesses had no prior acquaintance with the five assailants and that no Test Identification Parade had been conducted to identify them prior to the court proceedings.
It was only in court that the witnesses identified the five assailants for the first time. "As such, this Court is not inclined to believe the said testimonies as regards the charge of conspiracy", the High Court said.
The Court also added that it would have been impossible for some of the witnesses to have heard the conversation that allegedly took place between Chinnasamy and the assailants, given the physical features of the park.
Moreover, the judges found that the prosecution had failed substantiate their claim that Chinnasamy had withdrawn money from a joint account held by himself and his wife to pay the assailants for the murder of their daughter and her husband. The absence of CCTV footage from the ATM at the time of the alleged withdrawal of money also factored into the Court's conclusion on this aspect.
On these grounds, the Bench found that the prosecution had "failed to link the circumstances which would have been unerringly pointed out the guilt on the part of Chinnasamy. He was, therefore, acquitted of all charges in the case.
As regards the five assailants i.e. Selvakumar, Kalithamilvaanam, Mathan @ Michael, Dhanraj and Manikandan, the Court found that there was still sufficient evidence on record to convict them for murder and allied offences, as well the relevant provisions of the SC/ST Act.
Their conviction was upheld on the strength of the testimony given by Kousalya, who identified them as the assailants in three rounds of identification, as well as the testimonies of corroborating eyewitnesses.
Charges concerning a conspiracy to commit the offence were, however, dropped, finding that the prosecution had failed to substantiate their case on this count.
While their conviction was upheld for the remaining offences, the Court has commuted the death sentence awarded to the five assailants to life imprisonment instead, factoring in their young age and lack of criminal antecedents.
"... this Court is of the considered view that there is every possibility that they would reform themselves and on their release, would contribute something useful to the Society. Therefore, the capital sentence imposed upon them, requires modification", the Bench said.
This apart, the Court has also upheld the acquittal of Kousalya's mother in the matter, as well as the acquittal of two others including her maternal uncle. A person accused of having harboured the assailants was also acquitted of all charges.