A Scottish national was on Monday sentenced to life in prison for the murder of an Indian-origin man 18 years ago.
Surjit Singh Chhokar is considered one of Scotland’s most high-profile victims whose murder set a precedent by becoming one of the first cases to be retried after the abolition of the country’s double jeopardy laws.
His killer, 48-year-old Ronnie Coulter, will serve a life sentence after being convicted by a majority jury verdict of stabbing 32-year-old Chhokar to death in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, on November 4, 1998.
Coulter was told he must serve a minimum of 19 years and eight months behind bars before he is eligible to apply for parole, the BBC reported.
Jailing him at the high court in Glasgow, judge Lord Matthews said, “Chhokar was the victim of an ambush which cost him his life. The jury accepted you were responsible for his brutal murder over the theft of 100.70 pounds Giro. You chose to involve yourself. The evidence showed that what happened was not on the spur of the moment”.
Lord Matthews said that on the night of the murder, Coulter had travelled to Overtown with his nephew Andrew Coulter and a friend, David Montgomery, to meet Chhokar after a row over a stolen 100-pound cheque.
After an altercation, Chhokar collapsed in front of his partner Liz Bryce. He was stabbed three times in the chest and one of the blows pierced his heart, resulting in his death from massive blood loss.
The court also heard how Coulter was previously tried for Chhokar’s murder in 1999, but was cleared of the charge.
“It is plain that your only purpose was violence and you must have had a knife to hand. You inflicted three stab wounds on his body in the most despicable and cowardly manner. Now, many years later you are here to answer for your crime,” the judge said.
He praised what he called “the quiet dignity” of the Chhokar family who had endured an 18-year wait for justice.
Speaking outside court, Chhokar family lawyer Aamer Anwar said, “In the 18 years it took to prove Ronnie Coulter’s guilt, he has never shown a shred of remorse or sorrow. Surjit Singh Chhokar was not his only victim. His two parents, a sister, two young children and his partner Liz had their lives devastated, but today the presence of justice has finally given Surjit’s family peace”.
Detective chief superintendent Clark Cuzen, who led the new investigation into the murder, said, “I hope today’s sentence gives some closure to the family and again, I would like to thank them for their courage and dignity throughout”.