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Last Updated Thursday June 27 2019 08:39 AM IST

Weak witness statements helped Govindachamy

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Govindachamy Govindachamy (C), who was sentenced to seven-year jail term in the Soumya rape and murder case, is being escorted by the police (file photo)

New Delhi: The Supreme Court that was considering the appeal by Govindachamy challenging a death sentence handed to him by lower courts wanted to know whether there was sufficient evidence to award him capital punishment.

The apex court came to the conclusion that all proven crimes against Govindachamy did not warrant a death sentence. It, however, approved all other punishments handed to him by a fast-track court as well as the High Court and finally awarded him seven years for inflicting grievous injuries on Soumya.

The Supreme Court said it was proven beyond doubt that Govindachamy had raped Soumya. The sexual assault on her when she was seriously injured made the crime even more heinous, the court observed. For that matter, it agreed to the lower court's verdict of life imprisonment for Govindachamy. The court also agreed to the finding that Soumya's mobile phone was stolen by the assailant.

However, the statements of fourth witness Tomy Devassy and 40th witness Abdul Shookoor, both of whom were travelling in the coach adjacent to the ‘ladies compartment’ in which Soumya was travelling on the fateful night, were not accepted by the SC.

According to Tomy's statement, a middle-aged man in the train told him that a woman had jumped from the ladies compartment through its eastern door. That person could not be traced by the investigation agencies. The same person also prevented Tomy from bringing the train to a halt using the emergency brakes of the vehicle. Therefore, he had first intervened incorrectly in the case and he could not be traced by the police.

Tomy also saw Govindachamy sitting on the western door of the compartment. Abdul Shookoor and others had also seen Govindachamy in the compartment. They had identified Govindachamy in the court as well.

The Supreme Court agreed to the port-mortem report that Soumya was injured while in the train and that she also sustained wounds because of the fall from the train and that she was raped by Govindachamy. However, the court did not agree that she was pushed or thrown from the train by the accused. It asked how Govindachamy could be responsible for Soumya’s injuries since it could not be proven without doubt that the accused had pushed her out of the train. While the prosecution witnesses said that she jumped from the train, the post-mortem report indicated that she could have been pushed out of the train.

The court also went into much detail the reasons cited by doctors in the report to argue that the injuries sustained by Soumya were not similar to the ones she could have sustained if she had jumped from the train. That a head injury sustained in the train would have prevented Soumya from jumping out and that injuries caused by such a jump were not seen in her body were the main findings of doctors.

The post-mortem report also said that Govindachamy had laid Soumya on her back to rape her, which could have aggravated her wounds leading to her death due to blood loss. The SC countered this observation by asking how it can be proven that Govindachamy had laid her on her back with the intention of killing her. While strong circumstantial evidences were accepted by the lower courts, the SC said that witnesses had indicated that Soumya had jumped from the train and was not pushed out by Govindachamy, which weakened the findings of the lower courts.

Even while condemning the accused, the lower court did not deny that the investigation was incomplete. It had said that the accused could not be given the benefit of a faulty investigation.

The verdict of the SC indirectly points a finger at lack of proper investigation; the statements of the prosecution witnesses ironically helped Govindachamy escape the noose this time. 

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