Midnight murder: Did Ponda police get the right man?

Wahid’s life was simple. He was a mason who also doubled as a job recruiter for a commission. That was until he gave Mohan Biswal of Kendrapada, Odisha a job in Ponda, little knowing that it would eventually lead to his death.

It was on the night of 26 March, 2011 that the duo got into a quarrel over commission owed by Biswal to Wahid for giving him a job.

On the fateful night, Darmesh Singh, who lived at Shantinagar, Ponda went to bed around 10.30 pm. About the same time he heard Wahid arguing loudly with Biswal. An hour later he woke up to answer nature’s call when he saw the Biswal approaching his room. “Chaku dal ke aya,” he said, but Darmesh did not make much of it and went back to sleep. He later recalled that Biswal was wearing a red t-shirt and trousers.

Sometime between 10.15 and 11 pm, Maruti Hindimani was returning homing after some last minute shopping. He had crossed Sairaj Park building complex when he saw Biswal and Wahid quarreling with each other on the road. He waited for two minutes, but decided not to intervene and left.

On that same night, Rajpayeng was on security guard duty at Sairaj Park. He arrived around 8 pm and at 11.30 pm he noticed a person rushing toward the gate. The person was holding his stomach and blood was oozing out. The man shouted, “Security, security, kuta mara, police ko bulao,” and fell to the ground.

Rajpayeng poured water on the wound to cleanse it and tried to stop the bleeding by tying a towel. He put in a call to 108 and an ambulance arrived around midnight, but it was too late.

Darmesh, Maruti and Rajpayeng would later become important witnesses for the prosecution.

Police Sub Inspector Nikhil Palekar was the first to arrive on the scene on receiving information about the murder. He called Police Inspector Chetan Patil, who would become the investigating officer in the case.

The police recovered a pair of black coloured sandals from the scene of the murder and a cell phone from the pocked of the dead man. The police tracked Biswal at Agassaim and arrested him the following day.

Acting on information given by the accused, the police along with two panch witnesses left for Sairaj Park where Biswal showed them the spot where he had stabbed Wahid. He then led them to his room at Shantinagar. He took out a key kept below the tin roof, opened the door and recovered the clothes he was wearing when he stabbed Wahid, from under the bed-sheet. The t-shirt had blood stains on it. He also recovered the blood-stained knife.

With the recovery of the clothes and murder weapon, it looked like an open and shut case, but the police were unprepared for the defence counsel, who ripped the case apart in the trial court.

Biswal was acquitted on February 27, 2015 which prompted the prosecution to knock on the doors of the high court.

In the high court, the prosecution lawyer used Hindimani, Darmesh and Rajpayeng’s testimony to drive home the point that Wahid was last seen with Biswal and this meant that only he could have committed the murder. The high court, however, took a different view. It stated that Hindimani had seen the duo arguing around 11 pm and the security guard saw Wahid rushing toward the gate with a stab wound around 11.30 pm. What happened in the half-an-hour gap between 11  and 11.30 pm? Wasn’t there enough time for a third person to enter the scene?

Also when Hindamani was show a photo he failed to identify Wahid. Darmesh’s evidence was not accepted by the court because he heard them quarrelling, but had not seen them.

Then came the issue of motive and the prosecution had to prove that Biswal owed Wahid money. This theory fell apart on the testimony of Wahid’s wife, Pravin Munshi. She said she had received a call from her husband hours before he was killed. He told her he would collect money from the contractor Suresh, for whom he worked. She also admitted that her husband was supposed to get commissions from Suresh, which meant there was no commission to be received from Biswal. Besides, Suresh was not brought in court as a witness. With this development, the prosecution failed to prove motive.

Having bungled twice, the prosecution then relied on the discovery of the murder weapon and the blood stained clothes. But the high court ruled that since the prosecution had failed to prove the motive and the ‘last seen’ theory, the discovery of the clothes and murder weapon was academic.

To add insult to injury, the CSFL laboratory identified the blood on the knife and t-shirt as B, whereas the Goa Medical College had described the murdered man’s blood group as BRh +ve. “The Rh factor is important in the blood group of any person,” the high court noted.

The High Court of Bombay at Goa on 25 April upheld the findings of the trial court and emphasized that the order of acquittal is proper and correct.

However, the question that still remains unanswered is, was Biswal innocent, or did he get away with murder due to shoddy investigation by the Ponda police?

(This narration of events is based on the High Court of Bombay at Goa judgement dated 25 April acquitting Biswal.)

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