The Son Shot the Father: Who Won? Who Lost?
After the favourable verdict in the Pottal case, I began to receive many offers to fight murder cases. I will not describe all of those here. Still, I will end this narration of my career as a lawyer after giving you an account of a case that caused a sensation in Travancore those days, which was fought at the Paravur Sessions Court — the Kaloor murder case.
This had attracted a bit more public attention than the Pottal murder case. In a place called Kaloor in Thodupuzha, a young man — I don’t remember the family name — called Varghese was accused of shooting dead his father who was taking a bath at the well-side. The father was a very wealthy man, a well-known landlord. The plaintiff’s side argued that the son was a spendthrift who, along with his friends, squandered his father’s wealth recklessly, and that there was constant tension and frequent quarrels between son and father over this, and that the murder was a deliberate act on the son’s part, a continuation of this rancour.
I argued on behalf of the accused that this was an act of revenge carried out by someone who was involved in property disputes with the father, who was urged to do it by some paternal cousin of the accused with deep enmity towards him. This was false case foisted on the accused.
The Sessions Court had denied bail to the accused. Even if the plaintiff’s case was right, the only adverse evidence against the accused was the legally-weak evidence offered by the person who had allegedly aided the accused who had turned approver, a coolie named Kochu. So the High Court allowed him bail. The accused came to Thiruvananthapuram and gave me a full account of the affair and the case.
Because there were many witnesses to be examined in this case, and because it was very much in the eye of public attention, I had to deal with it very carefully; so I rented a house at Paravur and stayed there for nearly a whole month. Though Mr Chandy used to help me with expert advice in such cases, he was not in a position to help me in this one. It was not easy for him to come to a place that was so far away from where he worked and offer me any substantial help. He did advice me on what all I was to do in this case before I left for Paravur. And besides I was now endowed with the self-confidence gained from arguing the Pottal murder cases and many other cases too.
A week before the case was to be called, I arrived at Paravur with my mother and my son, who was but an infant then. I visited the place where the crime had been committed, where the gun was found, and took notes. Then I went to the place I was to stay with the accused, his wife and one year old son and a woman cook.
The wife of the accused was a loving and good-natured young woman. They had a lovely little boy. We stayed in that house like the members of a family. We would go to church as soon as the sun rose. In the evening, we would say the rosary together. I had not converted to Catholicism then. But my studies in the convent and spells in the boarding there had me eager and joyous to go to the Catholic church and take part in the recitation of the rosary.
The tears of the accused’s young wife made me pay attention to this case as if it were my own interest.
The Paravur Sessions Judge was Sri Sankarasubbaiyer. He was the son of the Travancore Dewan Sankarasubbaiyer. And the father of the present Kerala High Court judge and my friend, Sri Krishnamoorthy Aiyer.
His behaviour towards new lawyers was worth emulating. It encouraged me to be calm and take time to argue.
The plaintiff’s side was represented by the government pleader and later, the Sessions Judge Sri Mammen Tharakan. Needless to say, a case of parricide was a rare one and it attracted people. And because the lawyer was a woman, it became quite common to see a big crowd of people, including women, from around Paravur come there on foot, by vehicle, and by canoe and boat.
When I studied the case carefully, I realized that the evidence we had was much weaker than the Pottal case. I was confident that we would win the Pottal case in the High Court.
Though the accused completely denied the crime, I was able to understand that son and father did engage in acrimonious exchanges when he protested against his son’s doings. As the lawyer representing him, I really did not need to get to the bottom of the truth of the local whisperings about how the accused who was reluctant to take his father’s life by his own hand hired a retainer, Kochu to fire at him, paying him an enormous sum in return. My effort was to convince the Court that that the statement of the sole witness, Kochu, was false and totally fabricated. Kochu was cross-examined continuously for four days. Each of his response in that long-drawn examination weakened the plaintiff’s case. As the trial went on, the chances of conviction grew more and more distant.
Something funny happened in between. A senior Malayala brahmin man, a Nambutirippad, regularly came to listen to the case being fought. He approached my respected friend the government pleader one day and raised a doubt. “Saare, is the lawyer representing the accused a woman in truth? I am doubtful! Seeing her confidence, could it be some man dressed up as a woman to gain the sympathy and consideration of the court?”
The Nambutiri continued : “The voice is manly — and there is no trace of feminine modesty or beauty on the face. The whole body is inside a gown. There’s a collar and band on the neck, just like yours. The small coil of hair on the back is the sole sign of femininity! That’s not hard for a man to find.”
I had no reason to be miffed by the senior Nambutiri’s description of my looks. I possessed few marks of feminine beauty anyway. I remember my husband and many others remarking that there was much masculinity in my voice and the way I behaved. Even my mother used to tease me, calling me such names as Bull-lipped and round-nosed. When my son let me know of the birth of his first child by telephone — he was in Alappuzha and I was working at Nagercoil at that time — he first told me that the delivery was easy, and then that the only hitch was that the kid resembles you, Ammachi, in her complexion and nature! Let my granddaughter not read this and be sad. When she grew up, she changed and became a young beauty, fair and shapely enough, you know. As for me, should I not be happy taking relief that I was created to do a man’s work? Whatever that may be, it may be that the government pleader Sri Mammen Tharakan assured him that his doubt was baseless.
The trial was over and a date was announced for the verdict. I returned to Thiruvananthapuram with my mother and my baby.
When the verdict was announced, quite contrary to what we had expected, the accused was sentenced to death. He was taken to the Central Jail.
His wife came to see me. The moment she saw me, she broke into helpless wails. Her heart-rending sobs saddened me immensely. But since I was fully convinced that their evidence was weak and inadequate, I comforted her saying that he will be acquitted on appeal.
Because it was a death sentence, the appeal trial was not delayed at all. The case was posted to the Bench of Sri K K Chacko and Sri Gopala Menon.. The arguments took around a week.
I read out the statement of the first witness. The Court which included the prominent criminal lawyer Gopala Menon identified its weaknesses quickly. Right then, everyone felt that the death sentence may not be affirmed. And even if the approver’s — the first witness’ — statement was believable, without enough circumstantial evidence to strengthen it, the Court could not use it against the accused, anyway. But I too had my misgivings. But a son who fired a gun at his father was likely to arouse a court’s distaste and prejudice. And besides, the accused man’s profligacy and frequent quarrels with his father about it and the rancour it produced — all of this were helpful in establishing that the accused had the intention of murdering his father, by the plaintiff’s side. If less experienced in handling criminal cases and not well-versed in the legal aspects regarding the acceptability of evidence, the court might ignore the weaknesses of the remaining evidence — if the intention of the accused to commit the crime is well-revealed. There would be no surprise if it were inclined to convict the accused. But to my luck — I will not say that it was the accused’s luck — a good Criminal Law bench heard the case, found the first witness’ statement unacceptable, and declared that it was unable to agree with the Sessions Court’s conclusions that go beyond the assertion that the accused may have committed the crime to insist that he did indeed commit it. So it upturned the sentence saying that the accused must be granted the benefit of doubt and acquitted him.
After the verdict, the accused was released from jail. He wanted me to be part of the celebration that followed at his house, and to express his gratitude. I was not averse to it but my husband objected. He was worried that this may incense my enemies even more and lead to some danger or scandal. In the end, when I insisted, he agreed to accompany me. When we reached their house, the man’s wife embraced me with tears of joy. He gifted me a gold ring. His wife gave me a large vessel of bronze. I put the ring on Mr Chandy’s finger. We returned to Thiruvananthapuram the next day with the gifts and congratulations.
Though I did my job as well as I could and saved him from the gallows, that rebirth did not last long. If my memory is correct, before a year was over, one night, when he was walking back home from work through his own rubber plantation, he died at the hands of Kochu who was the approver in his father’s murder case. Passers-by found the young man’s blood-soaked body on the ground the next day, his head severed from the trunk. The police charge was that someone made the approver do this gory deed. Those who wanted to take forward the case — I will not mention the name here — wanted me to take up Kochu’s case. My conscience however did not allow me to accepted the ‘murder fee’ — the notes that Varghese had paid me had not lost their sheen, even. And so I refused them.