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Indian Case Summary

Henry Westmuller Roberts, Etc. … vs State Of Assam & Ors. Etc on 27 March, 1985

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In the case of Henry Westmuller Roberts, Sunil Chandra Biswas, Anil Chandra Barua, and Naresh Chandra Ghatani versus the State of Assam, the Supreme Court of India delivered a significant judgment on March 27, 1985. The case revolved around the kidnapping and murder of a nine-year-old boy, Sanjay Agarwala, in the context of a ransom plot.

Facts of the Case

On March 26, 1975, during the Holi festival, Sanjay was playing with other children in a pandal near a Shiva Temple in Tinsukhia town. The prosecution alleged that Henry and Sunil, two of the accused, kidnapped and murdered Sanjay with the intention of extracting ransom from his father. Henry and Sunil, along with Anil and Naresh, were employees of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) at Sibsagar in Assam. They were accused of conspiring to kidnap minor children from affluent families to extract ransom.

Henry and Sunil were arrested, and they led the police to the location where Sanjay’s body was buried. All four accused made confessional statements before a Judicial Magistrate, but later retracted these statements during their trial.

Issues and Court Observations

The case primarily rested on circumstantial evidence and the confessional statements made by the accused. The court had to determine whether these confessional statements were voluntary and could be relied upon for conviction. The court observed that the confessional statements were full of facts and minute details, which would not normally be present if the confessions were the result of tutoring or compulsion. The court also noted that the confessions were more or less exculpatory of the maker, with each accused attributing the crime to the other.

The court also had to consider whether the three hours given for reflection before making the confessional statements were sufficient. The court held that the confessional statements could not be rejected merely because only three hours were given for reflection if they were otherwise acceptable.

Ruling

The court found that the circumstantial evidence against Henry was strong and formed a complete chain pointing to his guilt. He was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering Sanjay and was sentenced to death. The court also found that the evidence against Sunil was not sufficient to sustain his conviction, and he was acquitted. The other two accused, Anil and Naresh, were also acquitted due to lack of evidence against them other than their retracted confessions.

The court held that the case was one of the rarest of rare cases in which the extreme penalty of death was called for due to the heinous and pre-planned nature of the crime. The court confirmed the sentence of death and other sentences awarded to Henry under ss. 302, 364, 201, and 387 I.P.C.