Justices P D Kode and V K Tahilramani, while acquitting the trio -- Devidas, Sakhubai and Shaila Ahire -- of murder charge, however, held them guilty under Section 452 IPC (house trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint).
The judges reduced their sentence from three-year rigorous imprisonment to three months on this count along with a fine of Rs 2,000 each. The bench also set aside the lower court order, which had imposed life imprisonment on Karbhari Ahire, another member of the Ahire family, for murder of the widow by setting her afire.
Instead, he was convicted under Section 304 part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and sentenced to ten years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2,500.
Acquitting three members of the family of murder charge, the judges noted, "We do not find any reliable and trustworthy evidence on record to show that they poured kerosene on Shobha (victim) and set her on fire." Shobha Khairnar, a resident of Malegaon, had an affair with Yuvraj, a member of Ahire family, who was already married.
Their affair was not approved by the family and there were frequent fights between Shobha and other members of the household on the issue. But this did not deter the couple and they continued the relationship. On April 25, 2005, Yuvraj's brothers Karbhari and Devidas, mother Sakhubai and sister-in-law Shaila barged into the house of Shobha and fought with her.
The prosecution had alleged that Karbhari then took a stove kept in the house and poured kerosene on Shobha before torching her. Shobha died in a hospital and Ahire family members were arrested and tried for murder. They were found guilty by Malegaon Sessions Court on April 5, 2006.
The court observed that there was nothing on record to show that Devidas, Sakhubai and Shaila shared common intention with Karbhari to set Shobha afire. Had Karbhari come to Shobha's house with a kerosene can and a box of matches along with other accused, then it could have been said that they shared common intention with Karbhari, the judges said.
"However, except for their presence on the spot there is no material at all that they participated in any way in the incident. Mere presence cannot be equated to common intention," the judges held.
"The evidence on record shows that after coming to Shobha's house, Karbhari declared his intention that Shobha should be burnt but thereafter none of the other appellants did any act whereby it can be said that they shared the common intention with Karbhari," the bench noted.
The evidence shows that all the three entered Shobha's house to teach her a lesson but not to murder her. Hence, as far as they are concerned, the only offence proved against them is under Section 452 (house trespass), the court said.