07 June 2023 :
Two men who were found guilty and sentenced to death by a POCSO court last year for the gang-rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Bundi district in 2021 were acquitted on June 2, 2023 by Rajasthan High Court, which pointed out that the lower court's verdict was based largely on circumstantial evidence.
Chhote Lal Bheel, 62, and Sultan Bheel, 27, who were awarded death sentence by a POCSO court in Bundi for the crime, were acquitted by a division bench of Justices Pankaj Bhandari and Bhuvan Goyal on June 2.
The bench rejected the death reference of the state government as it found merit in the convicts' contentions that there were many serious lapses in the police investigation and chargesheet.
The minor girl was found murdered on December 23, 2021, in Bundi.
The POCSO court had sentenced the two accused to death on April 28, 2022, considering the crime in the category of the rarest of the rare.
The two convicts had filed criminal appeals in the high court against their conviction and sentence.
Since the duo were poor and unable to afford a lawyer, the district legal services authority had given them the services of a lawyer, Umesh Sharma, to represent them in the high court.
As per Sharma, the police investigation and subsequent conviction and sentencing by the POCSO court were based on circumstantial evidence.
HC noted many gaps in probe by Bundi cops. Sharma informed the HC in his report that while the two accused were arrested on the basis of an investigation involving a dog squad, the dog squad memo and the testimony of the probe team were neither included in the chargesheet nor taken on record. The FIR lodged by the victim's father had mentioned "unknown people" as the perpetrators and did not mention the two accused, said Sharma.
While the victim's body had multiple bite marks, the FSL team's report did not contain a saliva report or teeth size samples matching those of the two accused, said Sharma's report. It also said there was only circumstantial evidence in the case and no eyewitnesses. In the entire investigation, policemen were the only witnesses, and there was no independent witness, it said. Even the circumstantial evidence produced had many missing links, making the prosecution's case "very doubtful," it added.
The minor girl was gang-raped and murdered when she was out to graze goats in the forest near Kala Kuan village. Her head was smashed with a stone, and she was strangled with her dupatta. Acting on a missing report lodged by her relatives, police recovered her body from the forest. A team of cops from ten police stations then conducted a search operation and arrested the two accused within 12 hours.