PUNE: The Kopardi gang-rape and murder trial in Ahmednagar took an unexpected turn on Thursday. The advocates for accused number 2, Santosh Bhaval, Adv Balasaheb Khopade and Adv Vijayalaxmi Khopade cited special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam as their defence witness. Nikam will now testify from the witness box. Five others have also been called as defence witnesses.
The judge, Suvarna Kewale, asked for a say on defence lawyers’ application from Nikam. The other defence witnesses include Ravindra Chavan, who is the former director of YASHADA, government medical officer Dr Datta Thorat, district collector Abhay Mahajan and Uday Nirgudkar, editor of a Marathi news channel.
“He is cited as a defence witness since he has taken an active part in the investigation of this case. This is a first of its kind incident in the history of Indian judiciary, wherein the public prosecutor is called by the advocates of the accused as a defence witness in its own case,” the defence lawyers said.
Nikam said, “It is nothing but a publicity stunt”.
The court is expected to pass a decision on the application on Friday about the six being made defence witnesses.
The three accused, Jitendra Shinde, Santosh Bhaval and Nitin Bhailume, were Dalits, while the victim belonged to the Maratha community, and the crime had triggered massive protests across Maharashtra.
As per the charge sheet, the 14-year-old victim studied in Class IX in a local school.
The three accused worked at a brick kiln near the victim’s home in Kopardi village and kept a watch on the girl as she cycled to her grandparents’ house, within a kilometre of her home.
Shorn of almost any movement, the empty road is flanked by vast acres of farmland and trees and is totally dark post-sunset since the street lights do not function.
The police believe the trio struck sometime between 7.30 pm and 8.15 pm on July 13, 2016, when the victim was probably returning from her grandparents’.