On February 22, the Bombay High Court acquitted 35-year-old Gopal Tanaji Shibe, a south Mumbai resident who was accused of murdering his brother. After the sessions court convicted him in early 2004, Gopal had filed an appeal in the HC on October 5, 2004.
On January 14, 2002, the VP Road police received a call from casting foundry owner Vinayak Guhagarkar saying that an employee, Sakharam Shibe, was found dead inside the foundry premises. According to the post mortem report, he had died of multiple rib and leg fractures. The police later arrested Gopal, Sakharam’s brother, and a resident of Kumbharwada, for the alleged murder.
The two worked and lived together at the foundry, and had recently returned from a trip to their ancestral property in their village. Gopal’s conviction was based on the evidence of Pandurang Chavan, who is from the same village and had worked at the foundry for 15 years. He told the lower court that he had seen the brothers quarrelling at about 11.30 pm, shortly before Sakharam was found dead. Later, he said, he had noticed Gopal sitting next to his injured brother. It was only the next day, he said, that he was told Sakharam had been killed.
There were, however, issues with Pandurang’s testimony. He never mentioned the quarrel in his statements to the police, or that he had seen Sakharam lying injured on the ground. To make matters worse, one Kashinath Majrekar, who hails from the same village, had claimed seeing Gopal on a bus on that fateful night, en route to his village. The bus was slated to leave at 11.00 pm half an hour before Sakharam’s death.
When Kashinath met Gopal, he noticed an injury mark on his finger which Gopal attributed to a metal object falling on his hand. However, a medical report said that it was due to a human bite. In the police seizure report, cops recorded the recovery of a bloody towel and a metal ‘U’ piece from Gopal.
The division bench of Justices PV Hardas and AM Thipsay noted, “Since the appellant had sustained a bleeding injury, the finding of blood of ‘A’ group, either on the towel or on the iron piece, is not significant at all and would not assist the prosecution as the blood group of the appellant has been determined as ‘A’.”
The court also observed that Kashinath’s and Pandurang’s statements contradicted each other, and therefore could not be relied upon. The court added, “If these omissions are left out of consideration, there is virtually no evidence to indicate that the deceased was last seen alive in the company of the appellant.”
It was also ‘inexplicable’ as to how the accused could be on a bus bound for his village at 11.00 pm if the murder took place at 11.30 pm. The Bombay High Court finally acquitted Gopal, noting, “Upon a careful evaluation of the evidence of the prosecution, we find that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove the offence against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. The appellant, therefore, in our opinion, is entitled to be given the benefit of doubt.”