Murder Most Foul: Part 4 – The Trial and the Judgement


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Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Fiat justitia ruat caelum
(‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall.’)

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

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A team of Madras City Police travelled to Bombay in search of the Menons. With the help of the Bombay police they traced the relatives with whom the Menons were staying.

When the police arrived, Devaki Menon who had undergone an abortion was resting at the home of her husband’s relatives. Prabhakara Menon was not there. He had gone out and the police traced him to the Chowpatty Beach, Girgaum. Menon had shaved off his mustache, nevertheless, the police recognized him. One member of the Madras police took out a fountain pen from Menon’s pocket. The pen had the initials of Alavandar.

When the police arrived, Devaki Menon who had undergone an abortion was resting at the home of her husband’s relatives. Prabhakara Menon was not there. He had gone out and the police traced him to the Chowpatty Beach, Girgaum. Menon had shaved off his mustache, nevertheless, the police recognized him. One member of the Madras police took out a fountain pen from Menon’s pocket. The pen had the initials of Alavandar.

The police arrested Devaki and Prabhakara Menon. A Bombay City Magistrate charging them with the murder of Alavandar, and other miscellaneous charges, remanded them to custody. The arrested couple was brought to Madras.

A team of top Madras police officials investigated the murder and gathered evidence for the trial assisted by Dr. N. Pitchandi and Dr. C.B. Gopalakrishna, the Police Surgeon, Madras, and consultant for a few other states in India, and to the Indian Army.

The Malabar knife used by Prabhakara Menon to decapitate and amputate the body of the dead Alavandar, which he later threw in a park in Broadway was found by the park attendant, who in turn gave it to his mistress. The police recovered it from the woman to include it as evidence. They found the shop where Menon bought it on the morning of the killing.

The police also found the blood-stained sari worn by Devaki Menon at the time of the murder, and while helping her husband to dismember the dead body.

As there were no eyewitnesses to Alavandar’s murder, the police tried to make a deal with Devaki Menon by suggesting that she would be given the state’s pardon for her role in the murder if she gave evidence against her husband. But she turned down the offer since she believed that her husband killed Alavandar to save her honor.

The Trial

The trial came up for hearing at the Madras High Court Original Criminal Sessions before the renowned Judge, Mr. Justice A. S. P. Iyer (Ayilam Subramania Panchapakesan Iyer).

The eminent lawyer S. Govind Swaminathan was the State Prosecutor. Advocates B.T. Sundararajan and S. Krishnamurthy appeared for the two accused.

The trial by jury was then in force in Madras High Court. A panel of nine jurors, some of whom were noted citizens of Madras, was sworn in was sworn in.

HOARY HALL - A view of a hall in the Madras High Court (Photo: K. N. Chari)
HOARY HALL – A view of a hall in the Madras High Court (Photo: K. N. Chari)

Large crowds thronged at the hearings of this sensational trial. On March 13, 1953, according to the Indian Express “the crowd in the courtroom became unmanageable, delaying the proceedings.”

The next day was no different. The veranda, leading to the court hall, was so crowded it made entry into the court hall difficult. The police bundobusts (arrangements) were meager, and reserve police were called in.

The couple, Prabhakara Menon and his wife Devaki, pleaded “not guilty” to the various charges including murder.

The prosecutor Govind Swaminathan built up a strong case of planned murder of Alavandar by the couple. He stated that the servant boy of the Menons told the police that he heard Menon and Devaki discuss the ways to get rid of Alavandar, and that Prabhakara Menon had pressurized his wife to bring Alavandar to their house so that he could give the devil his due. It was a case of killing the snake that strayed into one’s home.

Defending advocate, B. T. Sundararajan, argued that the killing was not pre-mediated as suggested by the prosecution. Prabhakara Menon was provoked to murderous fury by the playboy who assailed his wife Devaki in their own house, with the intention of having sex with her against her will. The defense lawyer stated: “It was done out of grave provocation and in self-defence. It is homicide and not murder.

What is the difference between “homicide” and “murder”? In fact, most people use these two terms interchangeably.

A homicide is the killing of one human being by another. The killing may be accidental or intentional; it may or may not be done with criminal intent. If one kills a man accidentally or in self-defense, it would be considered “homicide”; similarly, if one runs over an individual intentionally, it would be considered “homicide”. It is a neutral term. So, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide all are types of homicides that are not murders.

Black’s Law Dictionary edited by the world’s foremost American legal lexicographer, Bryan A. Garner, is the definitive legal resource for American lawyers, law students and laypeople alike. It is known for its clear and precise legal definitions, substantive accuracy, and stylistic clarity – making it the most cited legal dictionary in print. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the word homicide merely “describes the act, it pronounces no judgment on the moral or legal quality”.

Murder, on the other hand, is an illegal act that usually involves some degree of premeditation or intention to kill. Murder is punishable by death under Article 302 of the Indian Penal Code.

The word “murder” has a negative connotation associated with it. The police force in the United States has a Homicide Department, but not a Murder Department.

The Judgement

Gavel

Justice A. S. P. Iyer, a person ingrained in the ancient Hindu tradition opined that the victim, Alavandar, the scallywag, was a disgrace to humanity and deserved to be eliminated. He considered the killing as a “justifiable execution of an unwanted rascal.”

After the lengthy trial, Justice A. S. P. Iyer’s summing-up to the jury swerved in favor of the two accused. He accepted and supported the sudden and grave provocation theory put forward by the defense, taking into consideration the interests of the society and its morals. However, some people felt that his indulgence towards the accused couple from Kerala prejudiced because he too hailed from Kerala, from the agraharam in Ayilam Gramam, 320 km from Palakkad. However, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of ‘guilty’ against both the accused.

However, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty against both the accused.

On August 13, 1953, accepting the verdict of the Jury, Justice A. S. P. Iyer sentenced Prabhakara Menon to seven years rigorous imprisonment for culpable homicide and Devaki to three years in prison.

The top police officials who were eager to get the maximum punishment of death by hanging for Prabhakara Menon, the first accused, were sorely disappointed by the sentence.

Menon wanted to appeal against the sentence. But his lawyer, B.T. Sundararajan, advised him not to, now that he had escaped with a light sentence thanks to the judge. Menon accepted his lawyer’s advice and did not appeal.

The Menons were released early due to their good conduct in prison, and they shifted back to their native state, Kerala. In their prayer room the couple placed a photo of Justice A.S.P.  Iyer along with the gods and goddesses venerated by them.

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← Previous: Part 3 – The Killing

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