New Delhi, December 18
The court also convicted his two close friends — Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill — for helping Manu in destroying the evidence after Jessica was shot at by him at the Tamarind Cafe on the intervening night of April 29-30, 1999 for refusing him drinks late at night as a bar tender but upheld the acquittal of six other co-accused.
Reversing the February 21 judgement of the trial judge S.L. Bhayana, who had acquitted all the nine accused, a Division Bench of Mr Justice R.S. Sodhi and Mr Justice P.K. Bhasin found Manu guilty of murder, criminal conspiracy and under the Arms Act and his friends Vikas and Amardeep for criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence.
The court fixed December 20 for pronouncement of sentence after hearing arguments on it. The six co-accused let off are: Manu’s uncle Shayam Sunder Sharma, former cricketer Yog Raj Singh, Harvinder Chopra, Raja Chopra, Vikas Gill and Alok Khanna, who either were related to Manu or were his close friends. Two accused — Ravinder Krishan Sudan and Dhanraj — were absconding and could not be prosecuted.
While Gill present in the court was immediately taken into custody by the police, the Bench said Manu be taken into custody where ever he was. Vikas Yadav is in jail in the Nitish Katara murder case.
The order of the then Sessions Judge Bhayana, who was promoted as a judge of the Delhi High Court later, was described by the Bench “immature assessment of material on record, self-contradictory, based on misreading of material facts and unsustainable.”
The Bench, which relied heavily on the eye-witness account of socialite Bina Ramani who ran the Cafe and her husband George Mailhot, termed them as “courageous” witnesses to identify Manu as the main culprit even when several other witnessed including other key-witness Shyan Munshi, a model, had turned hostile.
Allowing the police appeal, the court said that statements of Bina Ramani and her husband was corroborated by Ramani’s daughter Malini and several other circumstantial evidence to prove the involvement of the three in the crime.
The case is seen as a serious setback to Manu’s father, Mr Vinod Sharma, a former Haryana Minister who had to quit from the Hooda Ministry soon after the admission of the appeal by the High Court. Manu Sharma faced minimum sentence of life imprisonment and maximum as death penalty under Section 302 of IPC, Vikas Yadav and Gill faced minimum sentence of 10 years and maximum as life sentence under Section 201 for destruction of evidence depending upon how seriously their complicity had contributed in the murder.
Mr Justice Sodhi, writing the judgement for the Bench, said Bina Ramaini had clearly identified Manu Sharma, Amardeep Gill and Vikas Yadav to be present at the Tamarind Café at the time of the incidence and she saw Manu “firing the fatal shot, which hit Jessica Lall.”
The court rejected defence argument of the two-bullet theory and said there was evidence on record to prove that Manu had a licenced pistol of .22 bore which he has not produced to establish his “innocence and on the contrary has taken a false plea that the pistol, its ammunition and licence had been removed by the police on April 30, 1999, a day after the crime.”
The court found enough circumstantial evidence and statement of a constable to show how Vikas Yadav and Gill had removed Manu Sharma’s Tata Safari from the complex of Tamarind Café left behind by him in a bid to escape from there. It was done by them with the “intention to screen out” Manu of the crime.
Rejecting Mr Jethmalani’s argument that it was a “tall Sikh” who shot at Jessica, the court said the two-weapon theory appeared to be a “concoction and manipulation” of evidence, in particular that of Munshi, who introduced it in the trial court.
New Delhi, December 18
"Sharma has surrendered in Delhi and is being taken to Tihar prison," a top police official said here. — PTI
Panaji, December 18
She also sought a witness protection programme in the country.
"It is unbelievable. It is great", an emotional Ms Ramani told reporters here.
Almost breaking into tears, the socialite, at whose restaurant, Tamarind Court in Mehrauli in Delhi, the crime occurred, recalled the last moments of Lall as she was being taken to the hospital after being shot by Sharma.
"She was in the back seat of my car. There were two waiters holding her. She was breathing so loud, fighting for her life", she said in a choking voice.
"She was breathing hard for life and I was watching her slip away. I could not see her so helpless", she said.
Terming the last seven-and-a-half years a struggle for justice, Ms Ramani said, "Finally, a whole new life is to begin".
She said she would devote herself more actively to social service now.
Ms Ramani also stressed on the need to put in place a witness protection programme, recalling the tremendous pressure she underwent, as did the other witnesses in the case.
"There should be strong protection for witnesses and I will be at the forefront to create some kind of platform", Ms Ramani said at her Goa residence minutes after the verdict was pronounced by the Delhi High Court.
"There will be no Zaheera Sheikhs and Shayan Munshis if we have more protection for witnesses", she said.
"It is a whole new life for me. Finally, the truth has come out", said 63-year-old Ramani, who had to spend nine days in jail in September after being arrested for obtaining a licence to run a restaurant on the basis of forged documents and serving liquor without a permit, but had later been released on bail.
Expressing his happiness over the verdict, key witness Deepak Bhojwani said over telephone from South Africa that justice had finally prevailed.
"I am happy that the high court has done justice", he said.
Lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, who had been involved with the ‘Justice for Jessica’ campaign, said, "This judgement vindicates how important it is for people to come together".
"The high court had not taken any additional evidence. This judgement could have come earlier. How could the trial court acquit him", she said.
Upcoming actor Munshi, a witness in the case who had turned hostile, said he was pleased with the verdict.
Talking over the telephone, he said, "I am relieved that the case is over".
He described the imbroglio over his role in the trial as a case of miscommunication.
Munshi, echoing Ms Ramani, called for a witness protection programme to be put in place.
"I think it should be brought into place. It always helps", he said.
Mr Amod Kanth, DGP, Arunachal Pradesh, who was the Joint Commissioner, South Range, when the murder took place, said, "I am extremely happy and most delighted. Justice has prevailed and investigations done in 1999 have succeeded". — PTI