Acquittal of accused in rape and murder of Dindigul teen exposes prosecution’s weak case

The case relates to the alleged sexual assault and murder of a 13-year-old girl in Vedasandur, Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu.
Child Sexual Assault
Child Sexual Assault
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On September 29, the Dindigul Mahila Court acquitted a 19-year-old man Kirubanandam in the case of the sexual assault and murder of a 13-year-old girl Divya* in Vedasandur in Dindigul district in April 2019. Divya was found dead in her house by her mother on the evening of April 16, with an electric wire in her mouth which was plugged into a socket. The mother also found injury marks on Divya’s body and her clothes in dishevelled state. 

The court, in its order, stated that the prosecution failed to prove the charges levelled against the accused beyond reasonable doubt and acquitted him of all charges. 

The acquittal has led to outrage, with people questioning the judgment and the prosecution’s case. A detailed look at the judgment by S Purushothaman, Sessions Judge of the fast track Mahila Court, however, points at a weak case by the prosecution.

The incident

The case relates to the death of a 13-year-old girl, Divya, in Kollapatti village, Vedasandur Taluk in Dindigul district on April 16, 2019.

The case was first registered as an ‘unnatural death’ by the police, and which was later altered to include murder and rape charges. The police arrested the accused, 18-year-old Kirubanandam, who also lived in the same village, on April 26, 2019.

The prosecution examined 35 witnesses in this case, submitted 26 documents and nine material objects to the court during the trial. 

The postmortem of Divya’s body was conducted in Dindigul Government Headquarters hospital on April 17, 2019, and the report stated that the Divya could have died 18 to 22 hours before the autopsy. The report also mentioned that there were tears in Divya’s hymen and vagina and that the vaginal, anal and buccal swabs were preserved. 

During the witness examination by the prosecution, Dr Senthilkumaran, one of the doctors who performed the autopsy on Divya’s body told the court that there were definite signs of sexual assault on the victim and that his observations in the postmortem report were in line with those found on the body of someone who was subjected to sexual assault. He further told the court that Divya’s breasts also had injury marks consistent with what would be found after sexual assault. 

The prosecution had also questioned Divya’s mother, father and neighbours in this regard. It was after one of Divya’s neighbours told her parents about seeing the accused exit their house that the police had altered the initial FIR to accommodate the provisions of murder and child sexual assault. 

The acquittal

The prosecution’s case was that Divya was electrocuted to death. But the postmortem and final medical opinion said that she was strangled to death. This was the first blow to the prosecution's case.

And since the death was by strangulation, the prosecution could not prove “the accused alone could have done the alleged offence as foisted against him by prosecution beyond reasonable doubt”, the judge noted.

This brings us to the next question of why the prosecution could not prove that it was a case of electrocution by the accused. The judge notes that the police did not immediately seize the plug and wire from the scene of occurrence and match with fingerprints of the accused, or send these fingerprints to the Regional Forensic Science Laboratory, Madurai.

The prosecution’s case seems to have heavily relied on a witness — that of Divya’s neighbour — and said that she had spotted the accused running away from Divya’s house on the evening of the incident. The witness told the prosecution that she had gone to relieve herself in the backyard of her house, near Divya’s house, when she spotted the accused exiting from the house. However, the counsel for the accused claimed that ‘no prudent man will accept the witness’s claim of going to relieve herself in an open space’, visible to others. The counsel further stated that the witness has a toilet in her house, implying that she did not have the need to relieve herself out in the open. Thus, the counsel called this witness as not trustworthy, which the court accepted. Similarly, a few other statements made by witnesses were not corroborative, thus creating a gaping hole in the prosecution’s case. 

Moreover, the court stated that the District Child Protection Officer, Dindigul, recorded a confession statement made by the accused in which he allegedly said that he had sexually assaulted Divya, but this report recorded by the said official was not submitted to the court. 

The defense also pointed out that the police had arrested the accused after 10 days of the incident, and that it was doubtful that strains of semen and blood in his clothes can be preserved over such a long time. 

Taking into account the defense arguments, the court agreed that the prosecution does not have enough evidence to prove the accused had indeed committed the crime and thus acquitted him. 

Questions that police should answer

One of the major questions that needs to be asked is why the prosecution did not rely on the results of forensic reports or fingerprint reports to establish sexual assault on the victim. It has been mentioned in the judgment copy that Dr Senthilkumaran did say that the victim’s body had markers of sexual assault. Moreover, the postmortem report issued by the hospital had also mentioned injury marks in and around the victim’s vagina. But in spite of these statements, there are no mentions of any forensic evidence to link the accused to the crime. In fact, the judgment copy does not dwell on the sexual assault much.

Why did the police not take fingerprints from the wire and plug?

One of the witnesses told the court that he and the accused had gone out to Dindigul town for some work on the day of the incident. The same witness had, earlier, told the prosecution that the accused had indeed sexually assaulted the victim and killed her. Why did the police not have enough witnesses to corroborate that the accused was present in the village at the time of the crime?

When asked, a senior official from Dindigul district police told TNM that the government will appeal against the order of the Mahila Court and hence cannot discuss evidence with the media. 

*Names changed

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