Nine months after his controversial acquittal by a lower court, Manu Sharma, son of Congress leader Venod Sharma, was on Monday convicted by the Delhi High Court of murdering model Jessica Lall after she refused him a drink at a party in 1999.
“We hold Manu Sharma guilty... The prosecution has proved the case beyond reasonable doubt,” a division bench of justices R.S. Sodhi and P.K. Bhasin said in a 61-page judgment, reversing Additional Sessions Judge S.L. Bhayana’s ‘not guilty’ verdict on February 21. The court will pronounce the sentence on Wednesday.
The bench criticised Bhayana’s judgment, saying: “It appears to be an immature assessment of the material on record and is self-contradictory, based on misreading of material.” The bench said the perception that witnesses had retracted their statements was wrong.
It found the trial court’s conclusion that witnesses Shayan Munshi, Karan Rajput and Shiv Dass had turned hostile “erroneous”. The judges said the other witnesses — Bina Ramani, Malini Ramani and George Mailhot — had said enough to prove Sharma’s guilt, but the trial court had failed to appreciate that.
The high court gave its verdict based on the same evidence which the trial court had felt was “not sufficient”. Sharma was also found guilty of destroying evidence, criminal conspiracy and illegally possessing a weapon. He surrendered a few hours later at the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing. Sharma’s lawyer said he would appeal in the Supreme Court.
The court also convicted Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill, alias Tony, for destruction of evidence and criminal conspiracy. Vikas is the son of Uttar Pradesh politician D.P. Yadav; Amardeep is a general manager with a soft drink company. They had accompanied Sharma to the party on April 29, 1999.
The court, however, upheld the acquittal of six accused — Alok Khanna, Harvinder Chopra, Raja Chopra, Yograj Singh, Vikas Gill and Shyam Sundar Sharma — observing that there was no evidence against them.
On October 31, in another retrial, the same bench had sentenced Santosh Kumar Singh to death in the Priyadarshini Mattoo rape-and-murder case. The trial in the Nitish Katara murder case — which too has caught the public imagination — is in its last stages, with the prosecution recording the statement of key witness Bharti Yadav.