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HC again sets aside death penalty awarded to MP man for girl’s rape, murder

Sep 22, 2023 02:52 PM IST

The high court told the trial judge to examine two forensic experts, question the accused in the context of additional evidence and pronounce its verdict afresh

BHOPAL/JABALPUR: The Madhya Pradesh high court has set aside for the second time the conviction of a 31-year-old man sentenced to death for the rape and murder of his neighbour’s nine-year-old daughter in 2013.

The high court clarified that its verdict did not amount to ordering a retrial (MP High Court website)

The high court told the trial judge to examine the two forensic experts at the state’s forensic science laboratories who had submitted their report, question the accused in the context of the new evidence and pronounce its verdict.

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This is the second time that the accused’s conviction has been set aside in this case; the first was on December 18, 2019, when the Supreme Court ordered the trial court to consider the case afresh following concerns if, while granting free legal aid, the appellant was extended real and meaningful assistance or not. It had been pointed out to the Supreme Court, among other points, that Anokhi Lal, the labourer charged with rape and murder, did not even get a chance to examine the forensic experts who submitted their report.

A bench of chief justice Ravi Vijay Kumar Malimath and justice Vishal Mishra said it was not ordering a fresh trial as there was no change in respect with evidence of other witnesses and that their evidence has been recorded and the cross-examination conducted.

“Therefore, those evidences will remain undisturbed. The trial court would record the evidence of the expert and the accused will have his right to have a say with regard to the documents to be produced by the prosecution. After this exercise is done, the matter may be listed for final arguments and the judgment be pronounced by the trial court,” the bench said in its verdict pronounced on September 11. A copy of the 24-page verdict was uploaded to the high court’s website on September 19.

The high court underlined that the Supreme Court also came to the view that in the absence of expert evidence, the reports with regard to DNA profiling become vulnerable affecting the case of the prosecution.

“Therefore, we are of the considered view that the application requires to be allowed. In the absence of the application being allowed, the evidence placed by the prosecution may not be sufficient to prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt. Therefore, in the interest of the prosecution also, the examination of the expert witness by the trial court becomes imminent.”

To be sure, the police, prosecution and the trial court had fast-tracked the investigation and trial in the case heard by a special court set up under the ‘Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.

The nine-year-old girl, who had gone missing on January 30, 2013, was found dead on February 1. Anokhi Lal was arrested on February 4 and the police filed the charge sheet against him on February 13. The special court convicted him on March 4 and sentenced him to death. By June 27, the high court also confirmed the death penalty and rejected his appeal. Anokhi Lal appealed to the Supreme Court against his conviction which set aside the finding in 2019

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