Kochi: The trial in the double murder case of two Youth Congress workers began in CBI Special Court in Kochi on Thursday, nearly a year after the CBI submitted its charge sheet.
All the 24 accused, including CPM Kasaragod district secretariat member and former MLA K V Kunhiraman and CPM leader and Kanhangad block panchayat president K Manikandan, appeared before the court.
The Special CBI Court judge K Kamanees framed the charges and read out the charges against each of the accused. All of them pleaded not guilty. "This marks the beginning of the trial," said an official of the CBI.
The court will set the date to examine the prosecution witnesses in the case on December 16, he said. The CBI has listed 292 witnesses in the case.
Adv Bobby Joseph is the public prosecutor for the CBI.
Youth Congress workers Kripesh (19) and Sarath Lal P K (24) were hacked to death at Kalliyot near Periya in Kasaragod on February 17, 2019.
The Crime Branch of the Kerala Police arrested 14 persons, all associated with the CPM, and submitted the charge sheet to Hosdurg Court in Kanhangad in May 2019.
The accused were identified as CPM Periya local committee member A Peethambaran (accused no. 1), Saji C George, Suresh K M, Anil Kumar K, Gijin, Sreerag R, Ashwin A, A Subeesh, Murali A, Ranjith T alias Appu, Pradeepan alias Kuttan, Manikandan B alias Alakkode Mani, CPM's Periya local secretary N Balakrishnan and Kanhangad block panchayat president K Manikandan.
Alakkode Mani, Balakrishnan and K Manikandan were granted bail on the day they were arrested. The remaining 11 accused were sent to Kannur Central Prison.
But in September 2019, the Single Bench of the Kerala High Court quashed the charge sheet after finding loopholes in it and handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The CPM-led state government, which was invested in the case, appealed against the verdict. The division bench set aside the order quashing the charge sheet but upheld the single bench order for the CBI investigation.
But the state government did not hand over the case diary to the CBI and moved the Supreme Court.
On December 1, 2020, the Supreme Court dismissed the special leave petition of the state government and asked the CBI to continue with the investigation.
Exactly a year later, the CBI investigator deputy superintendent of police T P Ananthakrishnan arrested five CPM workers on December 1, 2021.
Two days later on December 3, the CBI submitted its charge sheet with 24 accused to the Ernakulam Chief Judicial Magistrate Court.
It retained the 14 accused named by the Crime Branch.
Five of the 10 persons listed as accused by the CBI are CPM's Echiladukkam branch secretary Rajesh P (39), alias Raju; Regi Varghese (45) of Echiladukkam; A Surendran (47) alias Vishnu Sura, a friend of first accused Peethambaran; Sastha Madhu (41), the paternal uncle of fifth accused Gijin; and Hariprasad A (32), also from Echiladukkam. Hariprasad was recently given a job in the CPM-run cooperative bank at Periya Bazaar. They are lodged in Ernakulam District Jail.
The other five accused named by the CBI but not arrested include the former MLA K V Kunhiraman, Ragavan Velutholi, K V Bhaskaran, Gopa Kumar V alias Gopan Velutholy and Sandeep P V alias Sandeep Velutholy.
Nine days ago on November 22, the CBI Special Court transferred 11 accused lodged in Kannur Central Prison to Central Prison at Viyyur in Thrissur after it found that the first accused Peethambaran was in a government Ayurveda hospital for a month without the court's permission or knowledge.
"We believe the trial has begun soon because of Peethambaran's stay in the Ayurveda hospital. So every time they try to misuse their influence, it benefits the case," said a family friend of Sarath Lal.