Observing that there were no substantial evidence to prove conspiracy and murder, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on Friday acquitted all 22 accused in the sensational Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.
The Special CBI judge observed in his order that all the witnesses and proofs were not satisfactory to prove conspiracy and murder, the court also observed that circumstantial evidence is not substantial.
"Government machinery and prosecution put in a lot of effort, 210 witnesses were brought but satisfactory evidence didn't come and witnesses turned hostile. No fault of prosecutor if witnesses don't speak," the court said.
Twenty two people, mostly policemen, faced trial in the case which had triggered a political storm as BJP president Amit Shah, who was Gujarat Home Minister when the encounter took place, was also named in the case. However, he was discharged of all charges in 2014.
After the final arguments were wrapped up earlier this month, Special judge for CBI cases SJ Sharma had said he will pronounce the verdict on December 21.
Most of the accused were junior-level police officials from Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The court earlier discharged, for want of evidence, 16 of the 38 persons charge-sheeted by the CBI. These included Amit Shah, the then Rajasthan home minister Gulabchand Kataria, former Gujarat police chief P C Pande and former senior Gujarat police officer DG Vanzara.
What is the case
According to the CBI, Shaikh, an alleged gangster with terror links, his wife Kausar Bi and his aide Prajapati were abducted by Gujarat police from a bus when they were on their way to Sangli in Maharashtra from Hyderabad on the night of November 22 and 23, 2005.
Shaikh was killed in an alleged fake encounter on November 26, 2005 near Ahmedabad. His wife was killed three days later and her body was disposed of, the CBI said.
A year later, on December 27, 2006, Prajapati was also shot dead by Gujarat and Rajasthan police in an alleged fake encounter near Chapri on Gujarat-Rajasthan border.
The case was initially probed by the Gujarat CID before the CBI took over in 2010. The Supreme Court in 2013 directed that the trial be shifted to Mumbai from Gujarat on the central agency's request to ensure a fair trial.
The prosecution examined 210 witnesses, of which 92 turned hostile. Even as the trial has wound down to a close, two prosecution witnesses applied to the court Wednesday that they be re-examined.
One of them, Azam Khan, an aide of Shaikh, claimed in his plea that accused Abdul Rehman, a former police inspector who had allegedly fired on Shaikh, threatened Khan that if he did not depose as told, he would be framed up in false cases. His wife was also threatened, Khan claimed.
Another witness, Mahendra Zala, a petrol pump owner, has alleged that the prosecution did not furnish to the court his statement recorded before a magistrate.
WATCH: CBI courts acquits all 22 accused in Sohrabuddin 'fake' encounter case
(With inputs from PTI)