Forty years after Naxal leader A Varghese was killed, a Central Bureau of Investigation Special Court in Kochi on Wednesday found former IGP K Lakshmana guilty of murder in the encounter killing case but acquitted former DGP P Vijayan.
Varghese was gunned down by police in the Thiruvenlli forests in Kerala's Wayanad district on February 18, 1970 in what was described as an "encounter" death.
Delivering the judgment, CBI Special court Judge S Vijay Kumar said the first accused in the case, late CRPF constable P Ramachandran Nair had murdered Varghese on the command of Lakshmana, the second accused, who was then Deputy Superintendent of Police.
The judge convicted Lakshmana, who is in his eighties, of the offence under Sect 302 (murder) read with Sect 34 (common intention) of IPC but acquitted P Vijayan, giving him the benefit of doubt. Lakshmana and Vijayan, who came in a wheelchair, were present in court when the judgement was read out.
The quantum of sentence will be delivered tomorrow. Immediately after the verdict, Lakshmana was taken to the sub-court at Ernakulam. 83-year-old Vijayan, who was SP Kozhikode when the incident occurred, told reporters he was happy with the verdict.
The case made headlines a few years ago after Ramachandran Nair confessed in 1998 that he had shot Varghese at the behest of Vijayan and Lakshamana.
"Truth by its very nature does not yield to be kept hidden for ever. Truth which has been hitherto hidden as covered by the glitter of golden plate, has by now, though belatedly, been discovered. Truth triumphs; Truth alone," the judge observed.
"For the present purpose no more evidence is needed, it is proved beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that Varghese was brutally killed by the first accused who was a stooge at the hands of Lakshamana, who on his order brought about his plan."
"It is thus satisfied that the theory of death of Varghese in police encounter is an advance defence moulded as a pretext to commit the crime," the court held.
Available evidence in this case has withstood the test of time and has convincingly proved the complicity of Lakshamana. Equally the evidence is also not sufficient to prove the involvement of third accused, P Vijayan beyond reasonable doubt, the court said.
"The offence of custodial murder, be it of an extremist, terrorist or Naxalite, in the hands of the police whose duty is to produce him before a court for trial, does not get wiped off merely by efflux of time, be it decades... cannot be justified in a society like ours where a written Constitution as ours reigns," the court held.
However heinous the crime committed may be, the criminal cannot be punished at the hands of the agency authorised to investigate the crime, the court held.
"That is against the spirit of the Constitution of India and all norms of positive law, natural law and principles of natural justice and human consciousness and righteousness".
The statement of witnesses has established the presence of Lakshamana on the spot of crime and his giving threatening instructions to Ramachandran Nair to kill Varghese.
The court held that by any stretch of imagination it cannot be concluded that all the witnesses have colluded or conspired together to falsely implicate the accused in the case.
These witnesses are also not shown to have any element of motive or enmity to the accused, it said. The chances of Varghese, a Naxalite leader, alone getting astray and isolated in the forest without the company of any of his followers and getting himself engaged in an encounter with a team of armed CRPF men were remote, the court held.
Thirty-one witnesses were examined by the court during the trial which began in April this year. Varghese's two brothers and a neighbour Prabhakaran Warrier, who saw a handcuffed Varghese being taken by police, had testified in the case.
Thomas, one of the brothers, had told the court that on the day of the incident, some policemen came to his house and informed the family that Varghese had died in an encounter. He was also present in the court today along with some other relatives.
He had identified the body, which was buried within the compound of their house after the church refused a resting place. Following the revelation by Ramachandran Nair that he had shot Vargehse, the Naxal's brothers and former Naxal colleagues approached the Kerala High Court for a CBI probe.
The court in 1999 directed the CBI to investigate Varghese's death. The CBI had filed chargesheets against Nair, Vijayan and Lakshmana. Nair had stated that he made the confession after all these years to clear his conscience. He died in 2006.