SC faults police, acquits two Italian tourists of murder
The suspicious death of Francesco Montis, an Italian tourist, in room no: 409 of Hotel Buddha at Varanasi will remain a mystery thanks to the police failure to collect CCTV footage from the hotel’s cameras.
The slip has cost the case dearly, with a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court acquitting his two Italian companions, Tomaso Bruno and Elisa Betta Bon, accused in the five-year-old murder case.
Their acquittal came despite two separate post-mortem reports showing he was strangled to death, followed by life sentence awarded to the duo by a trial court, which was confirmed by the High Court.
A bench of Justices Anil R. Dave, Kurian Joseph and R. Banumathi, which heard the appeal by the foreign tourists, expressed incredulity at the investigating officer’s version that he watched the CCTV footage, but did not think of recording it in a CD.
Justice Banumathi, who wrote the verdict, blamed it on the lack of “scientific temper” at both individual and institutional levels in the police for the murder case falling to pieces.
“With the increasing impact of technology in everyday life and as a result, the production of electronic evidence in cases has become relevant to establish the guilt of the accused,” the judgment said.
“Non-production of CCTV footage, non-collection of call records (details) and SIM details of mobile phones seized from the accused cannot be said to be mere instances of faulty investigation but amount to withholding of best evidence. It is not the case of the prosecution that CCTV footage could not be lifted or a CD copy could not be made,” Justice Banumathi observed.
The three tourists had come to India from London and reached Varanasi on January 31, 2010. They had boarded at Hotel Buddha.
According to the prosecution, on February 3, all three had shut themselves up in their room the whole night. The next morning, Mr. Bruno and Ms. Betta Bon left at 4 a.m. to watch the famous ‘Subahe Banaras’. They returned at 8 a.m., and soon after alerted the hotel manager that Mr. Montis was unwell.
Mr. Montis was rushed to the local hospital, where he was declared “brought dead.”
Besides the post mortem reports showing he was strangled to death, the bed in the room and the pillow covers allegedly showed the same signs, the police said.
They arrested the two Italians and charged them with murder. Both the trial court and the High Court held them as guilty “beyond any reasonable doubt.”
However, in her recent judgment, Justice Banumathi noted how the movements of the accused were not accounted for after they had shut themselves up with Mr. Montis in the room. She noted how the CCTV footage from cameras placed outside their room would have proved for a fact whether they had left the room any time in the night or not.
“Since CCTV cameras were installed in the prominent places, CCTV footage would have been best evidence to prove whether the accused remained inside the room and whether or not they have gone out,” the judgment observed, ordering the duo’s release forthwith.