The Gujarat High Court today upheld the conviction of 19 persons, 14 of whom were sentenced to life term, in the 2002 Ode riot case in which 23 Muslims were killed during the post-Godhra communal violence in Gujarat in 2002.
"Communal frenzy turns perfectly normal human beings momentarily into murderous monsters leaving nothing but trail of death and destruction for the victims and their own family alike," a division bench of justices Akil Kureshi and B N Karia , which also upheld the seven-year prison term to five of the convicts, observed.
It acquitted three accused convicted by the trial court on April 12, 2012. It also upheld the acquittal of 23 others.
One of the convicts, sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court, died during the hearing of appeals.
Dilip Patel, Lalji Patel and Natubhai Patel, sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court, were acquitted by the high court today.
The state government, in its appeal, had sought capital punishment for those who had got life imprisonment.
But the high court held that this was not a 'rarest of rare' case to be fit for awarding the death penalty.
The "conspiracy theory" of the prosecution was "correctly believed by the trial court", the bench said.
The high court lamented the "senselessness of violence and loss of innocent human lives". "We cannot imagine the pain suffered by the victims who perished in the raging fire,"it said.
"We cannot judge the depth of sorrow and despair that the members of the families of the victims would have felt while helplessly watching their relatives being killed in front of their eyes in most gruesome manner.
"While we were hearing these appeals, we have also seen kind of doom and despair that such incidents bring on the members of the families of the accused.... This phenomenon which we often describe as communal frenzy turns perfectly normal human beings momentarily into murderous monsters leaving nothing but trail of death and destruction for the victims and their own family alike," it said.
The plight of the family members of the accused was reflected by "old ladies, young housewives with children in tow standing before us with folded hands pleading for temporary release of their son, husband or father", the court said.
In April 2012, a court for cases probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) convicted 23 of the 47 accused. One of the 47 accused died during the trial.
It sentenced 18 persons to life in prison and five to a jail term of seven years.
The SIT, the state government and victims' relatives had sought death penalty for the convicts sentenced to life imprisonment, and enhanced sentences for others. They also challenged the acquittal of 23 others.
The victims had taken shelter in a house in Pirwali Bhagol area in Ode town when a mob attacked them and set the house on fire. The incident took place two days after the Godhra train fire incident which triggered riots across Gujarat.
This was one of the nine cases probed by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT.
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