Nearly three years after the heinous crimes shocked India, an appeals court Friday acquitted one of the two convicted in the Nithari killings case, in which the body parts of some 19 women and children were recovered near a house in a hamlet at Noida on the outskirts of the national capital.
The Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh state overturned the death sentence of the businessman owner of the "house of horrors", Moninder Singh Pandher, after it found no evidence to link him to the murder of one 14-year-old girl, Rimpa Haldar. But, it upheld the capital punishment of his servant Surinder Koli.
The duo, arrested in 2007, were awarded death sentence last February by a special court of the country's premier probe agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), after it convicted them for the rape, abduction and killing of Halder. All the crimes took place over a period of two years before it came to light in December 2006.
However, the other 18 cases would continue against the duo who are currently in prison.
"This is one case where the public wanted Pandher's blood and flesh. And for me it was the biggest challenge to get him out of this case. If his capital punishment would have been there, justice would have been defeated," Pandher's lawyer and former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court R.S. Sodhi told the media.
But, the victim Haldar's family lawyer has claimed that it would appeal against the verdict in a higher court.
"The CBI had made this case so hollow, so bad, that no evidence was collected," the family lawyer Khalid Khan told the media, adding that he would soon appeal against the ruling.
However, experts have claimed that Pandher's acquittal will be slandered by the parents of the victims who had already accused the police and probe agency of being soft on the businessman, in which three policemen were sacked and three were suspended for "incompetence."
"On February 13 this year, the special CBI court awarded death sentence to Pandher and Koli in the Haldar murder case. Special court judge Rama Jain convicted the duo and pronounced the sentence despite the CBI counsel telling the court that the probe agency didn't find any evidence of Pandher's involvement," said Delhi-based criminologist A.K. Mukherjee.
"Now, the Allahabad High Court overturned Pandher's conviction. It will no doubt evoke angry reactions from the families of the victims," said Mukherjee.
"Though the CBI informed the court that Pandher was in Australia when Halder was murdered, many may find it unbelievable that the owner of the house was not aware of what was going on in his premises. Anyway, let's wait for an appeal before a higher court," added a senior police officer, unwilling to be named.