New Delhi: The Jammu & Kashmir government will challenge the acquittal of convict Sanjhi Ram’s son Vishal Jangotra in the Kathua gang rape and murder case citing the same piece of evidence that got him absolved.
As first reported by ThePrint, Jangotra was acquitted this week on the basis of footage from Zee News that purportedly showed him in Muzaffarnagar, nearly 500 km from Kathua, during the time the eight-year-old victim was in captivity.
However, the prosecution has told ThePrint that the footage had not been forensically examined, which rendered it inadmissible as evidence. This, a prosecution lawyer said, will form the basis of their challenge against Monday’s verdict of a trial court in Pathankot.
The Kathua gang rape and murder pertains to the abduction, rape and killing of an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl, allegedly as part of a conspiracy to drive the community out of the area.
Jangotra was one of eight suspects in the case.
The Crime Branch had stated in its charge sheet that the juvenile suspect had called Jangotra to Kathua while the girl was being held captive at a temple and asked him to “satisfy his lusts”.
The defence, however, claimed that Jangotra was at his college in Uttar Pradesh, taking his exams, when the crime took place between 10 and 17 January, the dates she was abducted and found dead, respectively.
The footage, purportedly from an ATM in Muzaffarnagar, is from 13 and 14 January, but some prosecution witnesses told the court that they had seen Jangotra in Kathua on the same days.
‘Who supplied the footage?’
Dismissing the case against Jangotra Monday, judge Dr Tejwinder Singh said the “CD and pen drive pertaining to Zee News categorically proves the fact that Vishal Jangotra during the days of occurrence was not present in Kathua rather was present in Meeranpur, Muzaffarnagar, and was appearing for his examinations”.
However, the prosecution claims that neither was the footage analysed forensically, a legal requirement, nor were the statements of its witnesses taken into account.
“In fact, the television news channel had joined three separate video clips together to submit it. This video was never put before the Forensic Science Laboratory for examination… This was not done by the television news organisation too,” prosecution lawyer Jagdishwar K. Chopra told ThePrint.
Another point of appeal would be the “gross violation of Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act”, which pertains to establishing the source and authenticity of electronic records.
According to Chopra, under the Indian Evidence Act, “there needs to be a certificate in keeping with Section 65B, and even the original source or documentation needs to be submitted”. “Nothing of that kind was presented before the court,” he said.
“Who in the bank supplied the footage? Who all were seen in the footage? All remains unanswered,” Chopra added.
“There are also verdicts that state electronic evidence submitted by the accused cannot be taken as gospel truth as there is no guarantee of authenticity,” said Chopra.
Referring to the prosecution witnesses’ testimony that Jangotra was seen in Kathua on the same days the footage is said to have been recorded, Chopra added, “There are Supreme Court and high court verdicts, too, which mandate a court to look into oral evidence in criminal cases.”
The prosecution, he added, will point out that the defence hadn’t presented a single teacher from Jangotra’s college in Meerut, near Muzaffarnagar, to establish his presence there during the crime window.
To seek death for three convicts
In its appeal, the prosecution will also challenge the sentences handed out by the trial court Monday.
Three accused — local leader Sanjhi Ram, special police officer (SPO) Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar, a friend of Ram’s juvenile nephew — have been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and gang rape.
Three others — SPO Surender Kumar, sub-inspector Anand Dutta and head constable Tilak Raj — have been handed a five-year jail term for destruction of evidence. The eighth suspect, Ram’s nephew, is a juvenile. The Pathankot trial court had ruled last year that he will be tried as an adult, but his plea against the order is pending before the high court.
According to Chopra, they will seek “enhancement” of Kumar, Dutta and Raj’s punishment as they “were conspirators”, and death penalty for Ram, Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar.
“This case was clearly a rarest-of-rare case and we are not satisfied with the verdict, hence the appeal,” said Chopra.