Twenty years after a 20-year-old youth was cleared of charges of killing his newly-wed wife, the Bombay high court has reversed the judgment and held him guilty of murder. A division bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Shrihari Davare sentenced Nerul resident Laxman Ganti to life imprisonment as he was unable to explain how his wife Lalita died. Laxman, who is now in his 40s, has been given 12 weeks to surrender before the Thane additional sessions judge; the HC directed the Thane court to issue an arrest warrant if he did not.
"Medical evidence reflects that the victim Lalita met with homicidal death--asphyxia due to strangulation--and material evidence crowns the authorship (of the death) on the accused," said the judges. "Since the death occurred in the custody of Laxman, it amounted to custodial death which was within his knowledge. It has come in evidence that (Laxman's parents) were out of the home. Laxman is expected to give an explanation in respect of the death but he failed in discharging the burden," the court ruled.
The court observed that even as per the defence story, Laxman was the last to leave the residence. Laxman claimed a shop-owner had seen Lalita close the doors after he left, but no defence witness was produced to substantiate his claim. The court relied on section 106 of the Evidence Act to convict him. The court, however, acquitted Laxman and his aged parents of the dowry harassment charge.
Laxman and Lalita, from central Mumbai, married in 1990 but the family shifted to Nerul and Lalita was harassed for bringing money from home as Laxman was unemployed. They allegedly demanded Rs25,000 and a VCR. On December 12, 1990, Lalita was taken in an unconscious state to hospital, where she was declared dead.
The post-mortem report indicated Lalita was strangled.
In 1992, the sessions court acquitted Laxman and his parents of all charges. The state challenged the verdict before the HC. Laxman claimed neighbours had tortured or harassed Lalita. He said that after his parents left the house on the day of the incident, he had gone out to walk his dog. When they returned, they found Lalita unconscious.
The court said Laxman's conduct after Lalita's death placed him under suspicion.