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Kerala custodial death: How a jail murder earned cops death sentence

A revenue division officer conducted the inquest, noticed injuries and ordered a postmortem, which found 22 injuries and ruptured vessels in the thighs, and concluded that these ruptures were the cause of death.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: November 26, 2019 10:32:58 am
Udayakumar custodial death: Two Kerala cops get death penalty, others jail Two cops have been given the death penalty for the custodial torture and eventual death of Udayakumar, a 27-year-old youth way back in 2005.

On Wednesday, a CBI court in Thiruvananthapuram awarded the death sentence to policemen K Jithukumar and S V Sreekumar over the death of K Udayakumar, 28, in custody in 2005. A look at the events that led to the landmark ruling:

The death
According to the prosecution, Udayakumar, who used to work in a scrap metal shop ,was sitting with his friend Suresh Kumar, who faced theft cases, at a park in Thiruvananthapuram on September 27, 2005. Around 2 pm, constables Jithukumar and Sreekumar picked them up and took them to Fort police station after finding Rs 4,000 with Udayakumar. The prosecution said constables Jithukumar, Sreekumar and K V Soman tortured Udayakumar to make him confess that the money was stolen, tying him to a bench and rolling an iron rode on his thighs. Late that night, police took him to hospital where he was declared brought dead.

READ | What is Udayakumar custodial death case?

A revenue division officer conducted the inquest, noticed injuries and ordered a postmortem, which found 22 injuries and ruptured vessels in the thighs, and concluded that these ruptures were the cause of death.

Probe and trial
The government suspended circle inspector E K Sabu while Jithukumar, Soman and Sreekumar were arrested and chargesheeted by the crime branch. During the trial in the district sessions court, four prosecution witnesses — Suresh Kumar and three policemen — turned hostile. Udayakumar’s mother Padmavathi Amma, now 67, moved Kerala High Court seeking a CBI probe, which the HC granted in 2007. The CBI chargesheet implicated constables Jithukumar, Sreekumar and Soman for murder, and sub-inspector K Ajithkumar, circle inspector E K Sabu and assistant commissioner T K Haridas for conspiracy and destruction of evidence. It made seven other police constables approvers. During the trial in the CBI court, Suresh turned hostile again, so did five policemen listed as prosecution witnesses. The statement of constable Heeralal, an approver, went missing.

READ | Udayakumar custodial death: All six police officers guilty, says CBI court

The mother
Padmavathi Amma’s fight for justice brought the case into prominence. A widow, she had depended on the meagre earnings of her only son. She said the money found with him was meant to buy her new clothes for Onam. In 2016, the HC ordered that the government give her Rs 10 lakh as compensation.

From left, P Rajan (above) and his father TV Eachara Warrier (below), Udayakumar (above) and his mother Prabhavati (below) and Sreejith (above) and his wife Akhila (below)

The convicted policemen
Of the three constables charged with murder, Jithukumar is now an assistant sub-inspector, S V Sreekumar is a senior civil police officer, and Soman died on March 10, 2018, months after he retired. The three charged with conspiracy were awarded jail sentences of three years. Sabu, then circle inspector, was initially suspended and, after this was revoked, went on to become a superintendent of police before retiring. Haridas too retired as an SP. Ajithkumar is now deputy superintendent with the state crime branch.

READ | Two Kerala cops get death penalty, others jail

Arguments & ruling
While the prosecution argued that the custodial death was reminiscent of torture during the Emergency, defence advocate Prathachandran Pillai tried to build its case around the question as to under whose custody Udayakumar was tortured. It alleged that the evidence was circumstantial, and said there was no clarity about what had happened at the police station. The defence now plans to appeal in the High Court.

ALSO READ | The sensational police custody killings that brought Kerala public on the streets

Judge J Nazar held that the “brutal and dastardly murder” is in the category of “the rarest of the rare cases” and life imprisonment would be inadequate. The court ruled: “The acts of the accused persons would definitely adversely affect the very institution of the police department… If the faith of the people in the institution is lost, that will affect the public order and law and order of the society and it is a dangerous situation.”

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