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 when she refused him a drink at a party in 1999.
“We hold Manu Sharma guilty for the murder of Jessica Lall. The prosecution has proved the case against him beyond reasonable doubt,” a division bench of justices RS Sodhi and PK Bhasin said in a 61-page judgment, reversing Additional Sessions Judge SL Bhayana’s verdict letting off Manu Sharma on February 21.
The court will pronounce the quantum of sentence on Wednesday.
The bench criticised Bhayana’s judgment, saying: “It appears to us to be an immature assessment of the material on record and is self-contradictory, based on misreading of material and is unsustainable.”
The bench said the perception that witnesses in the case had retracted their initial statements was wrong. It found the trial court’s conclusion that eyewitnesses Shyan 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 Manu’s guilt, but the trial court had failed to appreciate that.
Manu was also found guilty of destruction of evidence, criminal conspiracy and illegally possessing a weapon. He surrendered a few hours after the court’s verdict. Manu’s lawyer said he would appeal against the conviction in the Supreme Court.
The court also convicted Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill, alias Tony Gill, of destruction of evidence and criminal conspiracy.
The court, however, upheld the acquittal of six other 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, the same bench had sentenced Santosh Kumar Singh to death in the Priyadarshini Mattoo rape-and-murder retrial.
Email Harish Nair: