Zee Media Bureau
Chennai: A Puducherry court on Wednesday acquitted all the 23 accused in the high-profile 2004 Sankararaman murder case.
Notably, Kanchipuram Sankara Mutt Jayendra Saraswathi and Vijayendra Saraswathi were the prime accused in the case.
Puducherry principal district and sessions judge CS Murugan pronounced the judgement after a trial which ran for over nine years.
The judge held that the witnesses failed to support the prosecution case that the two Sankaracharyas -- Jayendra (78) and Vijayendra (44) -- were part of a conspiracy to eliminate the temple official in September 2004.
He also said the witnesses, including Sankararaman`s daughter, failed to identify the accused in the court. None of them identified any accused in the court and no incriminating evidence was made out against the accused, the judge noted.
The arrest of Jayendra Saraswathi on Diwali day in November 2004 in Andhra Pradesh and later his heir apparent, Vijayendra, came as a big jolt to the Kanchi Mutt and its followers.
The keenly-anticipated judgement was delivered in a packed court hall for which security was beefed up in and around the area.
A Sankararaman, manager of the Varadarajaperumal temple at Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu, was allegedly murdered on September 3, 2004, in the temple premises.
Sankararaman had, notably, levelled charges of financial misappropriation against the two Shankaracharyas and over the way they ran the Mutt.
The two seers of Sankara Mutt in Kanchipuram - Jayendra Saraswathi and Vijayendra Saraswathi - were cited as accused number one and two.
There were 22 other accused, including manager of Sankara Mutt N Sundaresan, and MK Raghu, brother of Jayendra Saraswathi.
All the 24 were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code for criminal conspiracy, abetment to the crime and other crimes.
One of the accused, M Kathiravan was murdered in March this year here.
Reacting to the judgement, Sankararaman`s son Anand said
the verdict was "shocking and unbelievable" and wanted to know who were his father`s killers.
The family will go through the judgement and decide the next course of action including whether to appeal against the verdict, he said.
The seers` counsel said the prosecution had failed to prove the conspiracy charge and the witnesses, including Sankararaman`s daughter Uma Maitreyi, had failed to identify the accused.
With no material or evidence "this is not a fit case for appeal," one of their counsel, KM Subramaniam, said.
Lakshman Reddy, another of the seers` counsel, said no witness or documents were there to prove the involvement of the Sankaracharyas.
Earlier, it was alleged that the pontiff hatched a conspiracy to eliminate Sankararaman since he had allegedly made allegations against Jayendra Saraswathi.
Jayendra Saraswathi was arrested on Diwali day on November 11, 2004 at Mahbub Nagar in Andhra Pradesh. After two months in jail in Vellore, the seer was granted bail by the Supreme Court on January 10, 2005.
Vijayendra Saraswati was arrested from the mutt on January 10, 2005 and the Madras High Court granted him bail a month later.
The case trial was shifted to Puducherry from a Chengalpet court near here on the petition from Jayendra Saraswathi, the senior seer, after he complained that the atmosphere in Tamil Nadu was not right for a free and fair trial. The Supreme Court had allowed the trial to be shifted to Puducherry in 2005.
The apex court also directed the Puducherry government to appoint its own public prosecutor on a petition from Jayendra Saraswathi.
For the trial 189 witnesses were examined between 2009 and 2012. Interestingly, 83 of them turned hostile. Even the approver, Ravi Subramaniam, turned hostile and denied his earlier statements to police.
The prosecution also examined Padma, wife of Sankararaman, and their son Anand Sharma as witnesses.
(With Agency inputs)