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Manu, 8 others acquitted in Jessica murder case
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 21
A city sessions court today acquitted prime accused Sidharth Vashist, alias Manu Sharma, son of Haryana Minister Vinod Sharma, in the sensational murder of ramp model Jessica Lal at a South Delhi bar seven years ago.

All eight co-accused were also acquitted by Additional Sessions Judge S.L. Bhayana , finding no evidence against them in the wake of most of the prosecution witnesses turning hostile during cross-examination.

Apart from Manu Sharma, charged with shooting down Lal with his licensed revolver for refusing to serve him liquor past midnight on April 30, 1999, in a bar run by fashion designer Bina Ramani at Qutub Colanade near Qutub Minar here, former Rajya Sabha MP D.P. Yadav’s son Vikas Yadav was the other key accused, who allegedly had accompanied him to a high profile party organised in the restaurant.

Jessica Lal was tendering bar in the party, which was allegedly attended by various high officials of the government, including some police officers, but soon after the murder everyone had fled from the scene.

The court acquitted the accused as the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt after 20 of the key witnesses produced by it had turned hostile during the cross-examination. Most of them even refused to recognise Manu Sharma in the court when pointedly asked by the Judge to do so.

Though the prosecution had cited nearly 100 witnesses, but those who turned hostile were crucial for proving the case.

As per the prosecution case, Manu, accompanied by Vikas, had joined the party around midnight when it was almost over. Manu demanded liquor from Jessica Lal, which she refused to serve saying the “party is over”.

Enraged with the refusal, Manu allegedly took out his licensed gun and shot her in the head. She was later declared dead at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Both Manu and Vikas had fled from the scene, as per the prosecution case, and the police had failed to recover the revolver after the arrest of the accused. The other accused were mainly charged with providing protection to Manu and helping him in destroying the evidence.

Former pace bowler Yograj Singh, father of cricketer Yuvraj Singh, and Shyam Sunder Sharma, a kin of former President Shankar Dayal Sharma, were among the other high profile co-accused charged with harbouring Manu Sharma prior to his arrest by the Delhi Police.

The other five co-accused — mainly friends of Manu — acquitted in the case, are Amardeep Singh, alias Tony, Vikas Gill, Harvinder Singh, Raja Chopra and Alok Khanna, an executive with the soft drink major Coca Cola.

Two accused — R.K. Sudan and Dhanraj — could not be brought before the court for trial as they had absconded and reportedly left the country, while one of the accused, Amit Jihgan, was discharged at the stage of framing of the charges by the court in the absence of pre-charge evidence against him.

The main lacunae in the prosecution case was the failure of the police to recover the weapon used in the crime and to ensure protection to the key witnesses to enable them to depose in the court without fear.

The evidence of these key witnesses could have given the eyewitness account of the incident and pre-arrest trial of the activities of Manu and Vikas after they had fled from the scene.

The prosecution had also failed to get extradition of a crucial witness from Nepal. He was a domestic help in the house of one of Manu’s friend where he had reportedly hidden after the crime. Soon after the murder, he had left India and gone back to his country.

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