The Patna high court on Wednesday set aside the conviction of 26 persons, 16 of them awarded the death sentence, in a 16-year-old case of massacre of 58 Dalits in a Bihar village.
The court acquitted the 26 of all charges for lack of evidence. Two of those awarded death are since dead while a third is absconding.
Suspected members of the Ranveer Sena, an outlawed upper caste militia, had killed the 58, including 27 women and 10 children, in Jehanabad (now Arwal) district’s Laxmanpur-Bathe on December 1, 1997. In 2010, a trial court had sentenced 16 persons to death and 10 to life.
“We are of the view that prosecution witnesses are not reliable, so all convicted persons are entitled to the benefit of doubt,” the HC said. “It appears efforts to track the assailants… met a dead end and the first investigating officer thought it appropriate to implicate these appellants...”