The prosecution in the Jessica Lall murder case on Tuesday wrapped up arguments in the appeal filed in the Delhi High court against the acquittal of Manu Sharma and eight others affirming there was strong evidence against all the accused.
The prosecution constructed a chain of incidents based on material evidence and strong circumstantial evidence which, they say, the Additional Sessions Judge SL Bhayana ignored while acquitting all of them on February 21.
Manu Sharma’s counsel Ram Jethmalani will begin his arguments on Wednesday. The police had filed the appeal against the acquittals bowing to the public outcry and the Division Bench headed by Justice RS Sodhi and PK Bhasin fast-tracked the case by ordering a day-to-day hearing. They are the same judges who heard the appeal in the Priyadarshini Mattoo case and on Monday sentenced Santosh Kumar Singh to death.
Citing 92 reasons for overturning the trial court order, Delhi Police have said in the appeal that Bhayana’s judgement is “manifestly wrong, bad in law and contrary to the facts and evidence on record and based on conjectures and premises”. While the arguments dealt on Manu’s culpability, the court asked the prosecution to make written submissions regarding the role of other accused.
Here are the highlights of the arguments of the two sides and the court’s observations:
Bina emerges as key witness: Going by the oral observations of the Bench, Socialite Bina Ramani has emerged as the “best bet” for the prosecution in the case. This is crucial as the trial court had failed to appreciate her testimony on the ground that she could not clearly identify Manu Sharma as the one who had shot Jessica at the party in Tamarind court on April 29, 1999.
Justice Sodhi also observed that Bina, her daughter Malini Ramani and husband George Mailhot had said enough to support the prosecution story but the public prosecutor mishandled their deposition by not intervening when they deviated from their statements made before the police. “They have not turned hostile in the true sense,” the court said.
“If you had intervened, Shayan Munshi turning hostile would not have mattered because she said she had heard the gunshot, turned around and saw Jessica falling, saw a fair chubby man in a white T-shirt running away, asked him why he had shot Jessica and even told him to hand over the gun,” Justice Sodhi said.
The bench said though the identity of the “man in the white T-shirt” was doubtful even from her statement, the prosecutor should have made an effort to identify him by coupling it with the statements of other witnesses — Malini, George and Deepak Bhojwani — all of whom had talked about the “fair chubby man”.
Arguing for the police, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium and counsel Mukta Gupta said the presence of Manu, Vikas Yadav, Amardeep Singh Gill and Alok Khanna at the party was proved from the testimonies of various witnesses.
Munshi a liAr, Bhojwani wrongly discarded: Taking on witness Shayan Munshi for denying knowledge about what the police had written in the FIR because he did not know Hindi, the prosecution said he had admitted to working in Hindi films and serials and even studied Hindi till class 7. Importantly, the Bench also observed that “it was hardly material whether he knew or understood Hindi because there was no reason for a police constable to write something in the FIR other than what he said at that point of time.
The police also drew solace from Justice PK Bhasin’s comment that the trial judge was wrong in discarding the statement of Bhojwani — who had named Manu Sharma — merely on the ground that his name was not in list of invitees and therefore could be a planted witness.
“If the list was the criteria, Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav, Amardeep Singh and Aloke Khana also did not find mention in the list. It means that they were not present at the party and the judge should have discharged them at the preliminary stage itself,” he said.
Manu’s mysterious conduct: The prosecution said the trial court failed to appreciate malafide conduct of Manu after the incident. His going into hiding after the murder even after the police announced that they were looking for him goes against him. The fact that he never came clean on why he was absconding where he was hiding, why he was evading the police weighed heavily against him, they said
Two-weapon theory cooked up: The prosecution was in a spot as three of its witnesses — two CFSL experts and Shayan Munshi — gave birth to a theory that two persons had fired at Jessica turning their case topsy turvy. It said the bullets recovered from Jessica’s skull, scene of crime and Manu’s Tata Safari were all of .22 bore ‘C’ mark but “subsequent insertions” were made by ballistic expert Roop Singh which gave birth to the ‘two-weapon theory’. The prosecution has appealed for a fresh analysis of cartridges.
Phone calls inciminating: The prosecution said a flurry of calls made by Manu to his home and residence of co-accused Vikas Yadav immediately after the murder was ignored by the trial court. But the Bench termed this “not clinching” as it should have been proved that the communication was incriminating. “You should have done some more investigation to find out who exactly was making the calls and from where and exact nature of conversation should have been documented,” the judges told police.
Confusion over seizure of car deliberate: The abandoned black Tata Safari car recovered by police was registered in the name of Piccadily Industries where Manu was a Director. The prosecution alleged that Manu had gone to Qutub Colonnade on the fateful night in that car. The trial court disbelieved that allegation merely because it found ambivalence among the police witness on whether the car was recovered in Karnal or Noida. The prosecution said in the normal course the court has to go by version that tallied with the police’s seizure memo which says car was seized at Noida.
Guard’s statement wrongly rejected: Guard Shrawan Kumar’s statement that he tried to stop the vehicle of accused and broke its windscreen was discarded by the trial judge saying he was a false witness. Posted outside Tamarind Court, he had tried to stop Vikas Yadav from taking away the Tata Safari. He not only broke the rear window in the process, pieces of which were crucial evidence, but also noted down the car number.
Manu not framed: The trial judge believed that Investigating Officer Surender Sharma had framed Manu Sharma “at the instance of his seniors”. The prosecution told the High Court that senior officials had only told him that the car recovered in the case was registered in the name of Piccadily Agro Industries and was being used by Manu as he was one of its directors. This was misconstrued by court.
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