In a setback to the Punjab Police that raises serious questions over the force's investigating skills, a Patiala court has acquitted a 26-year-old man accused of killing four members of his family in the district's Nabha town in August 2010.
Despite a seemingly watertight case - the police said that the weapon of crime was recovered from the water tank of the Nabha house in Preet Vihar colony and Amritbir Singh admitted to the crime - the police failed to prove their case in court.
Some of the witnesses turned hostile or backtracked from their statements. Statements of some, including a magistrate (naib tehsildar), did not match with the other witnesses' statements.
Because of lack of corroborative evidences and mismatch in the statements of the investigating officer and witnesses, the court of additional sessions judge Vivek Puri acquitted Amritbir on April 28.
His release has astonished inspector general Paramjit Singh Gill, who visited the scene of the crime on August 12, 2010 and oversaw preliminary investigations.
Officers, including Gill and deputy inspector general (DIG) LK Yadav, have asked the Patiala senior superintendent of police to seek permission from the court for reinvestigation.
The case hit the headlines when Amritbir, who was 24 at the time, informed the police that some people murdered his family - father Iqbal Singh, mother Jaswinder Kaur, grandfather Hamir Singh and cousin Gurmanbir Kaur - to loot the house.
The police later said that Amritbir was upset with his 'forced' engagement three weeks before the crime, and decided to eliminate his parents to marry the person of his choice.
"It's a case of shoddy investigation. Police, after taking permission from court, will form a special investigation team to find the concrete evidence to appeal against the verdict of court," DIG Yadav said. "Not only this, we will punish the guilty officer who conducted the shoddy investigation."
Pleading the case for Amritbir, advocate Sarabjit Warrich said the police in three different dates recovered different items (weapon and other case recoveries) from the accused 'voluntarily'. "If Amritbir volunteered for recovery of things put by the police, then why did he choose different dates for recovery of the gun, pistol and iron rod? He should disclose it on same day, if he had volunteered. It's a case where police are planting evidences on my client," Warrich said.
The then duty magistrate Harinder Sharma and investigation officer Harbhajan Singh, who both recovered the alleged weapon used in the crime, jewellery and other articles of accused including clothes, also differ in their statements, making holes in the police's case.
The police also failed to put up the ballistic report of the weapon to prove that the bullets were fired from same weapon.
The police lodged an FIR at Nabha police station on August 12, 2010 against Amritbir under sections 302 (murder), 450 (house-trespass in order to commit offence), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly) of the IPC; and 25/49/59 of Arms Act.
At the time of the crime, Amritbir was pursuing masters of computer application from a private institute and was attending tuitions in Patiala town.
An FIR was registered against the accused on statements of Bhagwan Singh, a family relative. The challan was prepared by the police on August 24, 2010 while the investigating officer presented it before court on September 9, 2010. The challan carried names of 17 witnesses including naib tehsildar Harinder Sharma.