26 years on, HC acquits man of murder charge

A man who spent the last seven years in jail on charges of murdering a shopkeeper was exonerated by Bombay High Court recently on the basis that there was a ‘strong doubt’ about the truthfulness of the dying declaration of the deceased.

Vasant Ramchandra Gaikwad (44), will now be released from Nashik Central Prison, after a sessions court in 2006 convicted him solely based on deceased John Lazoras’ statement, which was recorded by investigating police officer Firoz Sorabji Ganjia at the hospital.

A division bench of justices VM Kanade and PD Kode in their judgement observed, “[Though the statement] was recorded and read over to him [Lazoras] in Hindi, his thumb impression or signature could not be obtained and therefore the endorsement of the doctor was taken on the statement.”

The judges stated, “In our view the prosecution has miserably failed to establish [circumstances], to come to the conclusion that the accused only was the perpetrator of the crime.

In the present case, the investigating officer has not examined the independent witnesses, who are supposed to depose before the court, regarding the recovery of the clothes and discovery of articles belonging to the accused on the spot where the deceased was found… this is a case where the prosecution has not made any attempt to examine witnesses, which creates a serious doubt regarding the recovery of the clothes at the instance of the accused.”

‘Glaring loopholes’
According to the judgement (a copy of which is available with MiD DAY), even Peter, a witness, was not examined by the prosecution. Nor were the other witnesses present in the room when Lazoras’ statement was recorded at the hospital examined.

The case dates back to 1986, when Gaikwad, who was 18 then, along with co-accused Raju Mama, allegedly stabbed Lazoras, a shopkeeper. On July 20, two witnesses, Sarvesh Jaising Chavan and Silvestor James Peter, found Lazoras lying in a pool of blood at RG Patel stores, Bamanwada, Vile Parle (East). They immediately contacted Sahar airport police, who dispatched Ganjia to the crime scene.

The police officer then shifted Lazoras to Cooper Hospital. He had been stabbed 17 times.

Ganjia then recorded Lazoras’s dying declaration, where he stated that Raju and Gaikwad had assaulted him with swords and sickles. Lazoras died at 5 pm the same day, and based on his statement, an FIR was prepared and the duo was arrested. Lazoras’s bloodstained clothes and personal items, along with some imbrued gunny bags and plastic sheets were recovered from the shop. Tests revealed that all the blood belonged to Lazoras, and a post mortem concluded that he had died of multiple stab injuries.

The blood found on Gaikwad’s clothes also matched Lazoras. However, the Sessions Court convicted him solely on the basis of the statement recorded by Ganjia; no independent witnesses were brought in to corroborate the testimony. The doctor who endorsed Lazoras’s declaration was also not examined, as he had gone abroad.

Speaking to MiD DAY, Gaikwad’s mother said, “What can I say? I’m not happy as such, but I am relieved. We are no longer in touch with him.” Gaikwad doesn’t live in Mumbai anymore.

His sister said, “It will take another 15-20 days for him to complete formalities and return home.” The other co-accused Raju Mama died before the trial began.  

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