After five years, the sharp observation skills and persistence of two investigating officers secured a conviction in a child rape and murder case. On Thursday, the Salem District Mahila Court awarded double life imprisonment to the five accused in the gruesome rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl in Vazhapadi, Salem in 2014.
The case dates back to February 14, 2014, when five men between the ages of 22 and 31 kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered a 10-year-old girl from a village near Vazhapadi in Salem district. In a horrifying act, the men had hung the girlâs naked body from a tree near a temple in the village, which was discovered by villagers the next morning.
The girlâs father filed a police complaint and the police arrested five men in relation to the crime. Boopathi (31), Anandhababu, known as âSnake Babuâ (29), Anandhan (22), Prabakaran (26) and Balakrishnan (28) were remanded under sections 302 (Murder) of the IPC, sections 5(g) (Gang penetrative sexual assault) and 6 (Aggravated penetrative sexual assault) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012.
However, securing the conviction was not an easy task for the investigators.
Evidence documents were not marked properly
Speaking to TNM, N Suriyamoorthy, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Vazhapadi, says that the path has been arduous. He was transferred to Vazhapadi in 2017 and regularly attended every court hearing on the case. In May 2018, Suriyamoorthy discovered lapses in the way the trial was progressing.
âDuring the hearings, I noticed that some of the documentary evidence was not marked properly by the prosecution,â he told TNM.
An unmarked piece of evidence can lead to the acquittal of the accused, since it effectively means that there is no evidence of the crime, Suriyamoorthy says. In the Vazhapadi case, the documents that were missed included a postmortem report of the victim and the medical examination reports of all the accused.
âI am not sure how this got missed out, but I am a lawyer and hence I realised the implication of this error. In sexual offences, getting eye-witnesses is rare. So these documents were of utmost importance for the accused to be convicted. So I took this lapse to the notice of the SP, who asked me for a letter explaining my observations,â Suriyamoorthy explains. By this time, the defence counsel had started taking advantage of this lapse, he adds.
SP helps in securing a new prosecutor
SP Georgy George then submitted the letter with his recommendation to change the public prosecutor in the case. âThe SP actually submitted it to the district collector and secured the order in a span of 24 hours,â Suriyamoorthy says. Based on this, in 2018, advocate Dhanasekaran was appointed as the prosecutor in the case, replacing advocate Gandhimathi. The new prosecutor and the police then marked all documents and also had to re-examine five witnesses to take the case forward.
Defence moves HC to seek quashing of proceedings
Weeks before the verdict was about to be delivered, another obstacle surfaced after the defence counsel filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court. âThey wanted the High Court to intervene and order that [the Mahila Court] was wrong to have re-examined the witnesses and change the prosecutor. We filed a counter for that. The High Court dismissed the petition with stern remarks explaining the seriousness of the case and the casual nature of the petition,â Suriyamoorthy says. This paved the way for smooth conviction by Mahila Court.
Moving forward, Suriyamoorthy expects the defence counsel to file an appeal in the High Court against this. However, he feels confident that the accused will be punished for their crimes. âThe accused have been convicted under different sections and punishment has been awarded accordingly. The Mahila Court judge has also ordered that all these punishments will run in parallel. So in the High Court, even if one or two sections get acquitted, the remaining will stay. I am sure that the life term will also stay,â he says.