In a major relief to a priest of a school in Buldhana district, the Bombay high court recently quashed and set aside a conviction handed down to him under charges of abetting the suicide of minor student in 2000.
Justice PN Deshmukh, while quashing the conviction of Father Peter Paul Antony, said, "There is absolutely no evidence to establish that on the day of the incident or immediately prior to the deceased committing suicide, the applicant had instigated or abetted the deceased to commit the same. In that view of the matter, applicant cannot be attributed the requisite 'mens rea' so as to hold him guilty as abettor."
According to the prosecution, deceased Tarun Bagde, a student of St Joseph English School, used to reside in the hostel run by Meerymeyar Church of which the accused was the rector. It is alleged that a month before the incident, which occurred on October 14, 2000, the accused had ill-treated the deceased due to which, he committed suicide.
The police said on October 13, 2000, the father of the deceased was informed that Tarun was suffering from gastro as he had eaten poisonous chocolate. When his father reached the hospital, he was informed that his son was declared dead soon thereafter.
On December 15, 2000, the father of the deceased received a letter written by his son before his death alleging ill-treatment by the accused. Based on which a complaint was lodged against the accused and further investigations were done.
During the trial, the prosecution examined nine witnesses, while Father Anthony, denied the charges and claimed that he was being falsely implicated. The trial court though based on the evidence of witnesses convicted the accused in the year 2002, which was confirmed by a sessions court in 2005. This order was challenged in the high court.
Justice Deshmukh after going through the evidence found several discrepancies and contradictions in the testimonies of the witnesses including doctors, who had examined Tarun. The court said, "There appears to be a fundamental defect in the case of prosecution and it does not spell out any offence punishable under section 305 of IPC."