Ryan Murder Case: New Developments, But Questions Still Unanswered

CBI have shifted the focus of the investigation to a senior student from Ryan, but we still don’t have answers.

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Opinion
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Too many questions  remain unanswered in the Pradyumn Thakur murder case.
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On the night of Tuesday, 7 November 2017, the CBI apprehended a Class XI student of Ryan International School, and have confirmed that they believe this student murdered 7-year-old Pradyumn Thakur. The student has been produced before a Juvenile Justice Board, and the CBI have asked to be granted 6-day custody.

Also Read: Ryan Murder: CBI Probe Confirms Teen Killer, Gurugram Cops Evasive

The Class XI student becomes the second person to be taken into custody in the case, after bus conductor Ashok Kumar was arrested by the Gurugram Police on the day of the murder, 8 September.

The CBI have not released an official statement on the issue, though they have privately conveyed a number of details about why they have detained the student to news organisations, including The Quint, in addition to a basic statement by their spokesperson to ANI.

Unfortunately, these details appear to directly contradict much of the information we previously had about this gruesome crime, and raise more questions than answers. Here’s what we know so far, and all the questions that still need to be answered.

Why Did the Conductor Confess?

The Gurugram Police arrested bus conductor Ashok Kumar on the evening of 8 September itself, claiming that he had committed the murder after attempting to sexually assault Pradyumn. Ashok Kumar allegedly confessed to the police that he had committed the crime, and repeated this confession to the media.

If the student did it, why did the conductor confess to the murder?

The answer to this question is relatively straightforward - Ashok Kumar’s family has been insisting he was innocent from the start, and that his confession to the Delhi Police was coerced. Such a confession would have fallen foul of the Indian Evidence Act in any case: there was evidence of threats, and the confession was made in police custody, so without further corroboration, it would not have had the conclusive value everyone seemed to think it had.

The Gurugram Police are refusing to say anything about the matter, despite having arrested the conductor and having at one point been on the verge of filing a chargesheet. It is essential that they be brought to justice for what they did to Ashok Kumar, provided, of course, that the student suspect is proved to be the murderer.

We also haven’t received full clarity from the CBI regarding the conductor - they have not yet released an official statement about Kumar. Even though their attention is focused on the student suspect, they still need to take steps to either release the conductor or investigate him for something else, and we will hopefully receive that information soon.

Can We Trust the Student’s Confession?

The CBI detained the Class XI student on 7 November at 11:30 pm. During the questioning that followed, the suspect confessed to the crime. The CBI also claims to have additional forensic evidence that proves his involvement, though they have not mentioned what this is.

If the student has confessed to the crime, does that mean the case is closed?

Although the conductor was picked up by the Gurugram Police, not the CBI, concerns over the validity of this second confession will no doubt arise. The suspect’s father has already claimed that his son is being framed.

Of course, this does not mean that the suspect couldn’t have confessed to the crime. However, this confession won’t be enough to prove he committed the murder. A confession to the investigating officers in a case cannot be the sole grounds on which to convict someone, as per the Indian Evidence Act. The CBI will therefore need to put together further corroborating evidence to show the student suspect committed the crime.

If they do want to rely on a confession, they will need the suspect to make the confession before a Magistrate in accordance with section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, although since the student is a juvenile, there are additional checks and balances under the Juvenile Justice Act that will also need to be fulfilled before this confession becomes concrete on its own.

Same CCTV Footage, Different Conclusions?

The student was apprehended because CCTV footage obtained from the school indicated he was in the same restroom as Pradyumn at the time of the murder. The Gurugram Police also had access to the same CCTV footage, but drew entirely different conclusions from it.

What does the CCTV actually footage show?

The CCTV footage from the school is being bandied about by the CBI as the reason they zeroed in on the student suspect. This is confusing because the CCTV footage was also the basis on which Ashok Kumar was believed to be the murderer.

India Today published a reconstruction of the events after having “managed to access details of what the footage” showed. As per this reconstruction, Ashok and Pradyumn entered the bathroom between 7:55 am and 8:05 am, after which Ashok leaves the bathroom. Seconds after he left, “Pradyumn is seen crawling out, holding his neck with his hand.” According to the details they had accessed, no third person entered the bathroom during that time period.

So how then could the student suspect have been found out on the basis of CCTV footage? Obviously, it would appear that the old version of events was not true, or at the very least, based on incomplete information. We are now being told that the CCTV footage reportedly shows that more than one other student entered the restroom during that timeframe, and that Pradyumn’s crawling out of the bathroom was also captured on CCTV.

Whatever the case may be, there is zero clarity about what exactly the CCTV footage demonstrates in this case - which is problematic since this is meant to be so important to the apprehension of both suspects. What the footage actually shows, then, is a big question that is yet to be answered.

Where Was the Body Found?

As per their usual routine, Pradyumn's father dropped him off at school at 7:55 am. Pradyumn did not reach his classroom, instead appearing to have gone to the restroom. Pradyumn’s body was discovered with his throat slit sometime around 8 am. But the CBI version and earlier media reports of where he was found don’t exactly match up.

Who actually discovered Pradyumn’s body? And where?

This is a question which has serious implications for the case, since the student suspect had earlier been considered by the CBI to be the one who found Pradyumn’s body. On the other hand, all major news reports at the time instead mention that it was a gardener who found Pradyumn’s body.

If the student suspect was the one who found the body, that could easily explain why he was observed to be in the area in the CCTV footage. But this also then contradicts what was being taken as one of the core facts of the case. In a case such as this, if it isn’t even clear who found the body and where, this could wreak havoc with any prosecution, whether of the student suspect or anyone else. And yet, there is no clarity on this point.

It is also not clear where exactly Pradyumn’s body was found - whether inside the restroom or in the corridor outside, which again holds relevance when trying to reconstruct the murder and to understand what the CCTV footage actually showed.

The Murder Weapon

The CBI recovered a knife from the bathroom which they think was used to commit the murder. It is being claimed that the knife was found in one of the toilets. Once again, there is a discrepancy between this and the original version of events reported by the Gurugram Police and the media.

Where was the murder weapon recovered? Have the relevant forensic tests been conducted?

Initial media reports indicated that the knife used to slit Pradyumn’s throat was found on the floor next to his body. Now, however, the CBI is claiming that the knife was found in one of the commodes in the toilet, where an attempt had been made to flush it.

Again, in establishing the chain of evidence, it will be essential to know where the weapon was found, and also, crucially, whether it is proved to be the weapon used to commit the crime. Has appropriate DNA and fingerprint testing been done? Has it been compared to the wounds on Pradyumn?

We’re left in the dark on this point, thanks once again to the different versions of the story we’re hearing. And after the CBI’s fudging of evidence in the Talwar case, we cannot take it for granted that everything has been done properly.

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