Homicidal hanging and post-mortem suspension are two possibilities in all hangings, and the death of the two children had the definite possibility of being investigated and put to trial as cases of homicidal hanging, given the findings in the postmortem report.
In the case of the elder sister, the post-mortem report says the "anal orifice appeared stretched with multiple mucosal erosions at margins with pustular areas at places." During the trial, the defence lawyer extracted a statement from the forensic surgeon that the erosions can be due to hemorrhoids.
It is not uncommon to have more than one interpretation for an observation. An expert testimony suggests that one of the possibilities is more probable than the other. The anal appearances that can happen due to sexual penetration and due to hemorrhoids are different. Both may cause pain but the probability of a 13-year old child suffering from hemorrhoid is very less, and the evidence found during autopsy does not suggest hemorrhoid. The doctor should have cleared the point, or the prosecutor should have reexamined the witness and clarified the point given that the defence lawyer had extracted such a statement. A prosecution lawyer who had done her homework would have ensured that there was no loophole left in the expert's testimony. It is a moot question if the forensic surgeon volunteered the information.
The post mortem report of the younger child is a more carefully crafted document. The surgeon has fortified it with pictures not as appendix but as part of the report. It is unbelievable that the police, the prosecutor and the judge chose to believe the theory of a nine-year old committing suicide without batting an eyelid, especially since the doctor had suggested explicitly that the investigation must rule out the possibility of homicidal hanging. Remember, a postmortem report is addressed to the court, and the police is given a copy of it. The forensic surgeon has implored the court to cause it to be investigated from that angle, too. The investigator has not followed up on it. And the judgment has nothing in it to suggest that court has independently come to the conclusion of a suicide. It does not seem that anyone had even entertained the possibility of the child being murdered, except the police surgeon.
I would say the police surgeon could have gone a bit more on the path of exploring the cause of death of the child and put a more definitive impression in the minds of all the players. One of the judgments indicates that he was present at the time of inquest. He could have measured the height at which the rafter was fixed, and the cot and the broken chair found on the scene of crime, and given a more accurate picture about the various possibilities. This seems missing.
The prosecution case is that the accused abetted suicide. Abetment can happen, if at all it is the case, over a period of time. But the culprit has to be there at the scene of a murder. The police could have started investigating it as a murder and verified the possibility of the accused being present at the scene. Such an approach would have helped the court come to a better conclusion what we have now on hand.
(The writer is associate professor, department of forensic medicine, T.D. Medical College, Alappuzha)...