The Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday told a special CBI court in Mumbai that hostile witnesses obstructed the probe into the deaths of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauserbi in 2005, and his aide Tulsiram Prajapati in 2006, PTI reported. Final arguments in the case ended on Wednesday, and a verdict is expected by the end of December.

Sheikh, who was a wanted criminal, was killed by the Gujarat Police in November 2005 in an encounter which is alleged to have been staged. He and Kauser Bi were travelling by bus from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra when they were stopped by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police, allegedly abducted and shot dead near Gandhinagar. A sub-inspector also allegedly raped Kauserbi before murdering her. Sheikh’s aide Tulsiram Prajapati was the sole witness to the murders. He was in police custody after the incident but was shot dead in another encounter in December 2006, when the police claimed he was trying to escape.

Of the 38 people accused in the case, only 22 stood trial while the others were discharged. The current list of accused include inspectors, assistant inspectors, sub-inspectors and constables from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh who are facing allegations of conspiracy. The initial list of accused individuals had included Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah, ministers and police officers from Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Final arguments concluded after the lawyers of the 22 accused made their submissions to Special CBI Judge SJ Sharma.

The investigating agency’s counsel told the court that the CBI took over the case five years later and witness examination began 12 years after the crime. This led to some “lacuna” in the probe, CBI counsel BP Raju said, adding that star witnesses turning hostile “hampered” the investigation. Out of the 210 witnesses examined, 92 were declared hostile.

“I don’t blame the CID. I don’t blame the CBI,” judge Sharma said in response. “There are statements and witnesses. If they come here and say something else, it’s not your fault. You did your job.”

In 2010, the Supreme Court had noted that attempts were made by the investigating agency of the state of Gujarat to mislead the courts, and so, transferred the case from the Criminal Investigation Department to the CBI. In 2012, the top court moved the trial to Mumbai, directing that the case had to be heard by the same judge from start to finish, but several judges have heard the case since.