In significant remarks in the Jessica Lall murder case, the Delhi High Court on Thursday said it was not surprising that all the accused walked free considering the kind of probe carried out by Investigating Officer Surender Sharma.
"What kind of investigation officer is he (Surender Sharma)? No wonder all the accused were acquitted...the police had attempted to destroy its own case", the Bench said on a day when for the first time the spotlight was on "deliberate lapses" by the police to save key accused Manu Sharma.
This was the precise issue over which there was a hue and cry soon after the acquittal of all eight accused which led to the filing of the appeal by the police and a fresh FIR.
Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium who began the rebuttal for the police after the defence concluded their arguments faced a volley of questions from a Division Bench comprising of Justice RS Sodhi and PK Bhasin.
Sample these: Why did the IO, who seized photos and diaries from Manu's farm in Samhalka, not prepare a seizure memo allowing him to say that his gun was taken away by the police? Why did he hold on to the cartridges recovered from the scene of crime for two-and-half months if not for tampering? Why were questions like "were the bullets fired from two weapons" asked of the ballistic experts when the police was sure only one weapon was used? Why did the prosecutor not confront key witnesses when they deviated from the statement given to the police?
"You destroy your own case and then blame the accused?," Justice Sodhi asked Subramanium. Admitting to the lapses by the police and lacunae in the probe, the police counsel replied "notwithstanding everything there is still abundant material to prove the guilt of the accused as some witnesses like Bina Ramani, Malini Ramani and George Mailhot stood the ground and said enough to implicate Manu Sharma when others crumbled.
"The problem we faced was of a strange kind. Witnesses were recanting at the stage of deposition and I urge the court to consider the part-testimonies of even those witnesses who had recanted and take the administration of justice forward," Subramanium told the Bench.
The mystery of the missing pistol was the subject of lengthy argument with Subramanium stoutly denying that the police had seized it after the murder. He said the onus was on Manu Sharma to produce the gun and he did not even file a 'missing report'.
Referring to Jethmalani's charge that the weapon was seized and the police was not producing the seizure memo to supress the fact, Subramanium asked what stopped the defence from moving an application in the court to get a copy of the seizure memo. On the defence contention that an application was moved, he said they had "planted" an application in the court records subsequently to use it as an alibi at a later stage.
Justice Sodhi then drew the attention of Manu's lawyer and asked him to "respond to grave allegations of the prosecution that the defence had tampered with the court records".
The 'tall Sikh man' theory
The tall sikh man referred to by Manu's counsel Ram Jethmalani as the person who shot Jessica was given a quite burial with Justice RS Sodhi saying "these things are not to be taken seriously. He said he will be named but what happened?"
The police counsel said the character was a "figment of imagination" as the first message flashed to police control room by a constable after visiting the scene of crime said a person aged around 35 years, fair plump and wearing a white T-shirt had shot Jessica. "This was spontaneous and contemporaneous which can be relied upon", he said.
Subramanium said the statement of bar manager Jatinder Pal and waiter Madan had clearly established that Bina Ramani was at a distance from where she could see the shooting and therefore she continued to be the sheet anchor of the prosecution.
Email Harish Nair: email@example.com