The police should at least have "a body or a body of evidence" when charging someone with murder, a Gujarat court has said while acquitting all the accused in a 2002 post-Godhra riots case in which bodies of none of the 17 missing persons were found.
The court at Halol town in Gujarat's Panchmahal district, in its order passed on Tuesday, cited the rule of corpus delicti (which in Latin means body of the crime) and said it applies to all crimes, but is especially important in a murder investigation.
It is a general rule not to convict anybody until the body has been found, the court said.
A mob of 150 to 200 people had allegedly attacked and killed 17 members of a minority community, two of them children, in the violence that broke out at Delol village in Panchmahal following the February 27, 2002 Godhra train carnage.
The police had arrested 22 accused in the case and filed two separate charge sheets against them in 2004 -- three were named in the first and 19 in the second charge sheet.
The Halol court on Tuesday acquitted 14 of the 19 accused in the second charge sheet for want of evidence.
The eight other accused in the case died during the pendency of the trial that went on for more than 18 years, and the case against them was abated.
All the accused were out on bail since 2006.
The police failed to find the bodies of any of the 17 missing persons, with the prosecution alleging before the court that some of them were burnt alive and others burnt after murder using kerosene and wood in an attempt to destroy the evidence.
Even DNA profiling could not be conducted on the "completely charred bone pieces" recovered during investigation, the court of Additional Sessions judge Harsh Trivedi noted while acquitting the accused for want of evidence.
The court cited the rule of corpus delicti (body of the crime) and said it applies to all crimes, but is especially important in a murder investigation.
"There should be a body or at least a body of evidence for police to work with before they charge someone with murder. When someone goes missing and police don't have a body or at least a body of evidence, how can police proceed further or work with which don't exist?" the court asked in its order.
"It is a general rule not to convict anybody unless corpus delicti can be established, that is until the dead body has been found," it said.
On January 7, 2004, when the FSL (forensic) expert reported that no DNA profiling could be obtained from the completely charred bone pieces, (alleged to be of the missing persons), "then automatically the rule of corpus delicti was required to be considered," it said.
The police could not find the bodies of the alleged murdered victims, nor could it establish the role of the weapons found in committing the crime or the presence of the accused persons at the place of the crime, the court said.
It said the prosecution could not even establish that the mob chased members of the Muslim community till the place of the crime, nor was the presence of an inflammable liquid established.
The prosecution had alleged that some of the victims were charred to death and others burnt after the murder, it noted.
As per the case detail, on March 1, 2002, people from the Muslim community were attacked by a mob of 150-200 people armed with sharp weapons and sticks from Delol and neighbouring villages agitated over the Godhra train carnage.
Around two weeks later, 17 persons were missing from a relief camp and they were among those who were attacked by the mob, according to the prosecution said.
In May that year, the police recovered some bone remains from a field near the village. After a forensic examination, they were found to be "charred incomplete bones," it said.
As per the police, 17 people were attacked and charred to death by the agitated mob wielding sharp weapons and carrying kerosene oil.
The police later arrested 22 accused and filed a charge sheet against three of them on April 14, 2004, and against 19 others on August 31, 2004.
The judicial proceedings in both the cases were carried out together.
A Godhra court abated the first case after the three accused died during the pendency of the trial.
The other case in which 19 people were accused was later transferred to Halol.