1. The appellants have been convicted of the murder of one Mala Durgadu on the night of October 27th. The body-was fished out of the Godaveri river on November 2nd after three days' search within half a mile of the garden where the deceased was employed and where he was last seen alive on the afternoon of October 27th. We see no reason to doubt the identity of the corpse. The deceased undoubtedly met his end by violence: and the circumstance of the 3 survey stones found tied to the body leaves little doubt that it was at or near the garden referred to.
2. We have very carefully considered the evidence of P.Ws. Nos. 6' and 9, on which the prosecution must mainly rely. If this is accepted it proves beyond doubt that the appellants murdered Durgadu, and with the help of P.W. No. 9 took his body in a boat into the middle of the river and sank it there weighted by the survey stones which were procured from the garden.
3. As regards P.W. No. 9, it seems pretty clear that he was, at least in a minor degree, privy to the conspiracy for the murder of Durgadu. He may have had nothing to do with the crime itself; but his attempt to represent that he was coerced into assisting the criminals in disposing of the corpse is futile. His evidence is, therefore, to some extent tainted and has to be received with caution. It is, however, powerfully corroborated both directly (vide P.W. No. 12) and circumstantially: and no inconsiderable value attaches to it. The argument that because the 4th accused, who is really a shepherd, can 'ply a boat', the aid of the witness, who is a fisherman by trade, was unnecessary is not very convincing.
4. The evidence of the shepherd (P.W. No. 6) is of even more importance; and we can see no reason to regard it as in any way tainted by complicity in the crime. The two chief points against it are: (1) that it was unnecessary for the accused to take him into their confidence, (2) that his delay in coming forward is suspicious. But it must be borne in mind that if the deceased were killed at the time and place indicated by the prosecution, the accused could hardly hope to keep this witness who has his cooking shed in the same garden) in the dark und may have reasonably thought the boldest course was safest. Nor does it seem very unnatural that the witness should keep quiet, until he found his master (P.W. No. 10) and the Village Munsif (P.W. No. 11) actively investigating the crime in the garden itself. We think his explanation in this respect may be fairly accepted.
5. P.W. No. 10, under whom accused Nos. 1, 2 and 4, Durgadu and P.W. No. 6 were all employed in different capacities, appears to be a respectable man entitled to credence: and no acceptable explanation is put forward for his aiding in fastening the crime on three of his own men. His evidence and that of Durgadu's widow establishes such enmity as might account for the murder.
6. The other prosecution evidence calls for little comment: and the confessional statements of accused Nos. 2 and 4 are only used against the persons making them, and do not take the case very far.
7. In our opinion the evidence as a whole justifies the convictions of murder, which, with the sentences, are hereby confirmed. The separate sentences for offences under Section 203 of the Indian Penal Code are both unnecessary and illegal, and are hereby set aside.