A sessions court on Tuesday convicted Chandrabhan Sanap for the rape and murder of 23-year-old software engineer Esther Anuhya. The quantum of Sanap’s sentence will be decided on Wednesday, as his lawyer Prakash Salsingikar told the court he needs to prepare Sanap mentally for the sentencing.
Anuhya had boarded the Visakhapatnam-LTT Express train from Vijayawada on January 4, 2014, but she went missing from LTT on January 5, the day she arrived in the city. Her decomposed body was found off the Eastern Express Highway in Bhandup on January 17, 2014.
Initially, the police refused to file a case, forcing her family to run from pillar to post. The investigation gathered momentum only after the family found her body at Kanjurmarg, with the help of her call data records.
In a bid to evade the police, Sanap changed his appearance by growing a beard and fled to Nashik. While the government railway police (GRP) called him for questioning, they let him off. Sanap’s name surfaced after police teams questioned nearly 2,500 people and studied the footage from 36 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, leading to his arrest.
The defence had earlier argued that Sanap had been falsely implicated. Shalshingekar said he was arrested under pressure. “The crucial evidence does not support the prosecution’s case,” he said.
“Although the prosecution claimed Sanap can be seen in the CCTV footage, it has not taken steps to prove it. The police claimed the seized articles [clothes] belonged to the victim. The DNA recovered from the clothes did not match the victim’s or Sanap’s DNA sample. The doctor could not determine whether the victim was raped, as he could not conclusively describe the injuries,” Shalshingekar said.
The prosecution refused to comment on the case, till they get the court verdict.
How statement by neighbour helped nail Sanap
The statement of Nandkishor Sahu, a neighbour of Sanap worked in favour of the prosecution.
Sahu and Sanap often played cards and sat for drinks together. In his statement, Sahu said he was partying with his women friends on January 4, 2014. Sanap joined them at 11.30pm. He left from there at 1.30am with Sahu’s motorbike.
“The next morning Sanap called me. He asked me to come to his house. When I asked him about my motorbike, he told me he had parked it on the highway as there was no petrol in it. So we went to the highway to bring my motorbike,” Sahu had said.
When Sahu was trying to start the motorbike, Sanap went around 100 feet away. Sahu followed him to the spot where he saw Anuhya’s body.
“He was searching for her mobile phone as he feared she might have taken a photograph of the numberplate of the vehicle,” Sahu told the court.
Sahu said Sanap was scared and threatened him against revealing it to anyone. “On January 7, he called me on my mobile and said he would kill my family members,” Sahu said.
After 20-month wait, Anuhya’s family relieved
After 20 months of anxiety, the family of Anuhya was finally relieved on Tuesday, as the sessions court convicted Sanap for Anuhya’s murder.
“The railway and city police were lax. They acted only after Esther’s body was found. The investigation gathered pace much later. I am happy with the conviction,” said Arun Kumar, Anuhya’s uncle, adding they want him to get the death sentence.
After the missing person’s report was filed, the railway police questioned Sanap, but let him off. “When I had met the then railway police chief, who was looking into the case then, he said they were not equipped to investigate such cases. What they merely had to do was check the call records and start looking for Esther on the field,” said Kumar.
Anuhya’s charred remains were found in the mangroves at Kanjurmarg by her friends and family. Her father identified Anuhya with the help of her ring. “If we could do it, so could they. We just went around Vikhroli, which was her last traced location,” said Kumar.
Kumar said the family was happy with the investigation carried out by the Mumbai crime branch, as Sanap has been convicted for rape, kidnapping, murder, robbery and destruction of evidence. “Our sustained efforts and team work helped in Sanap’s arrest and conviction. The evidence and Anuhya’s belongings found on Sanap nailed the case,” said Venkat Patil, investigating officer of the case.
(With inputs from Charul Shah and Saurabh M Joshi)