Indian court acquits two in 2006 Nithari serial killings

By Saurabh Sharma

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – An Indian court on Monday acquitted two men jailed in relation to the murders of 19 children and young women nearly two decades ago due to a lack of evidence, their lawyers said.

Police arrested businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant Surender Koli, the prime suspect, in December 2006. The federal police filed 13 cases against Koli and six against Pandher in relation to the killings.

Among India’s most horrific crimes, the murders shook the nation when they came to light after body parts stuffed in plastic bags were found buried in Pandher’s backyard and drains in Nithari village in a suburb of New Delhi.

The Allahabad High Court on Monday acquitted Koli in 12 of the cases and Pandher in two cases and set aside the death sentences handed down by the court, said Payoshi Roy, Koli’s counsel.

“There is a single case against Koli now in the Supreme Court … We hope to overturn that as well,” Roy told Reuters, adding that the high court ruled the evidence against Koli as being inadmissible.

Koli had previously admitted before another court that he ate body parts of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar, the first victim of the serial killings, according to the federal police Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Indian media reported that Koli later retracted this admission.

The state government did not respond to a request seeking comment on the acquittals.

Pandher earlier told the CBI that he was oblivious to serial killings going on inside his home in Nithari, saying he had mobile phone records showing he was usually out on business when the killings happened.

Pandher’s advocate Manisha Bhandari said that after Monday’s judgement, all six cases against her client related to the killings have been disposed of, as he was previously acquitted in four cases.

(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma; Writing by Shivam Patel; Editing by Sharon Singleton)