Chennai: All the 17 accused for burning three employees of the Tamil daily Dinakaran in the Madurai office in May 2007 have been set free by a Tamil Nadu court as the key witnesses turned hostile.
The accused were acquitted by the principal district sessions court on Wednesday.
Except for one police official who was charged with negligence of duty, all others were supporters of MK Alagiri, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers and Chief Minister Ms Karunanidhi`s son.
The attack on the Dinakaran office allegedly by Alagiri`s supporters happened after the daily published a survey that said Dayanidhi Maran - son of late Murasoli Maran a nephew of Karunanidhi - ranked ahead of Alagiri, the DMK`s strongman from Madurai, in popularity.
Vinoth, Gopi and Muthupandi died when the Dinakaran office was burnt. The incident was recorded on video by several news channels.
The case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) after the attack.
Soon after the attack, the relationship between the Maran and Karunanidhi families soured and Dayanidhi Maran resigned from his union cabinet berth.
Subsequently, the Chief Minister`s family members floated Kalaignar television channels to rival Sun Network owned by Kalanithi Maran, who owns Dinakaran.
The DMK party headquarters also asked Sun Network to vacate its premises.
The state government also floated Arasu Cable Corporation to run cable TV network committing sizeable funds to rival the Maran owned multi system operator (MSO) Sun Cable Vision.
With economic interests getting affected the two families decided to patch up in 2008 and Dayanidhi Maran was given a ticket to contest for the Lok Sabha seat from Chennai and was made a cabinet minister in-charge of the textiles ministry.
It has to be seen whether the state government will prefer an appeal against the Sessions Court judgment.
The burning of the office and the death of three people brought to mind the 2000 incident when three women students of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University were charred to death when AIADMK cadres torched a bus near Dharmapuri in 2000.
As witnesses turned hostile, the Madras High Court scrapped the trial held at Krishnagiri court and transferred the case to Salem court.
In 2007 the Salem court awarded death sentences to three and life imprisonment for 25 accused.
While the Madras High Court upheld the judgment, the Supreme Court in 2008 has stayed the death sentence.