Court acquits Nithari accused Moninder Singh Pandher

NEW DELHI Fri Sep 11, 2009 6:47pm IST

Businessman Moninder Singh Pandher (C) is surrounded by police officers as he was taken to court on the outskirts of New Delhi January 11, 2007. The Allahabad High Court on Friday overturned the death sentence of Pandher for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl on the outskirts of the capital, lawyers and relatives said. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

Businessman Moninder Singh Pandher (C) is surrounded by police officers as he was taken to court on the outskirts of New Delhi January 11, 2007. The Allahabad High Court on Friday overturned the death sentence of Pandher for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl on the outskirts of the capital, lawyers and relatives said.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Allahabad High Court on Friday overturned the death sentence of Moninder Singh Pandher for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl on the outskirts of the capital, lawyers and relatives said.

The girl's family will appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court, in a long-running case involving the killings of many children and young women that raised questions of prejudice and negligence in India's police force.

The public outcry against the killings and the protests of the victims' families, who came from poor backgrounds, put the spotlight on the country's police force, often accused of prejudice against caste and financial status.

Pandher and his servant, Surender Koli, had been sentenced to death by a special court in February for the murder, which police said was part of gruesome serial killings in an industrial town next to the capital in Uttar Pradesh.

The Allahabad high court overturned Pandher's sentence for lack of evidence, but Koli's death penalty still stands, according to local media.

"I was appointed by the High Court as his lawyer. Koli didn't appoint me as his lawyer," Gopal Chaturvedi, Koli's lawyer, told reporters. "Now it is up to him whether he files an appeal in the Supreme Court against this decision."

Pandher and his servant were arrested in December 2006 after the body parts of 19 children and young women were found packed in 57 plastic bags and buried in the backyard and drains around the businessman's home.

Koli admitted in court that he even ate body parts of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar, according to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Pandher had told the CBI he was oblivious to the killings in his home, called the "House of Horrors" by the media, saying he had mobile phone records showing he was usually out on business when they happened.

Six police were sacked for not acting on reports of parents of missing children in Noida, the town where Pandher lived.

The New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, said in an August report that India's police discriminated against people, and tortured and killed suspects behind closed doors.

Rimpa Haldar's family will appeal the verdict. "The CBI had made this case so hollow, so bad, that no evidence was collected," their lawyer Khalid Khan told reporters.

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