The fact that a man has committed an offence once is not enough to convict him for another, similar crime, the Bombay high court said while acquitting a 49-year-old sentenced to death for rape.
The Ahmednagar resident was convicted by a trial court for raping and killing a 13-year-old girl. The ground for the conviction was that he had used the same modus operandi to assault another minor earlier.
“The modus-operandi for committing a crime may be relevant for the investigating agencies,” said the division bench of justice SS Shinde and justice AIS Cheema, while reversing the conviction of Anil Pawar. “It does not absolve the state from collecting evidence and proving the case beyond reasonable doubts in the subsequent offence.”
On August 22, 2011, Pawar was arrested for allegedly dragging a 13-year-old girl returning from school to a sugarcane field and raping and killing her. The girl’s body was tracked after her bicycle was found near the field.
Though nobody had seen the accused, Pawar was arrested on the basis of a farmer’s description, who said he had seen a stranger on a motorcycle in the area at the time. Pawar was tried on the basis of circumstantial evidence and sentenced to death on October 16, 2014.
The convict moved the high court, which found the prosecution had failed to prove the chain of circumstances, as there was no medical or forensic evidence, or eyewitnesses, to connect the accused to the crime.
What irked the high court was the that while convicting Pawar, the trial court took into consideration his past history – of having been convicted of similar offences of tracking girls at isolated places, and raping and killing them. When the 13-year-old was raped, Pawar was out on furlough for having raped another girl.
The high court set aside Pawar’s conviction, saying it was too risky to link him to the incident only on the word of a farmer, who had seen the accused from afar and could notice only the colour of his clothes, approximate age and complexion.