Delhi HC orders retrial in Jessica Lal case
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Delhi HC orders retrial in Jessica Lal case

Delhi High court on Wednesday ordered a retrial in the 1999 murder of a New Delhi model after a lower court dismissed charges.

india Updated: Mar 29, 2006 16:12 IST

Delhi High court on Wednesday ordered a retrial in the 1999 murder of a New Delhi model after a lower court dismissed charges against nine suspects last month for lack of evidence.

Relatives of the slain woman, Jessica Lal, hailed the retrial order as "historic" as the Delhi High Court issued arrest warrants for the nine men and barred them from leaving the country.

After a seven-year trial, the lower court last month dismissed the case against the suspects accused in the shooting death of Lal, sparking a national outcry and prompting demands for new laws for witness protection.

The case was seen as another example of India's rich or influential people cheating justice.

Police on Wednesday put out an all-points bulletin for the almost 100 witnesses in the case, many of whom had retracted earlier statements under alleged threats.

Legal critics also say police officers sabotaged the prosecution's case and add that the acquittal came after witnesses -- including top-rung fashion designers, a Bollywood actor and several ramp models -- turned "hostile."

Police on Wednesday vowed to crack down on officers blamed for botching the probe which led to the acquittal of Manu Sharma and Vikas Yadav, sons of powerful politicians who were the key suspects in 32-year-old Lal's murder.

The seven others acquitted included two top executives of a multinational cola firm, a relative of former national president Shankar Dayal Sharma and an Indian cricketer.

Judges Manmohan Sarin and Manju Goel ordered the nine to appear in their court on April 18 after accepting 92 counts that challenged their acquittal. The judges, however, said they could stay on bail in the intervening period.

Delhi Police Commissioner KK Paul, who faces criticism in the case, said he too was determined to get to the bottom of Lal's April 29, 1999, murder in a swanky bar. It was packed with 400 people when she was shot through the head.

Witnesses in their original testimony had said Lal was shot for refusing to give Sharma a drink.

"Action would be taken against every person found guilty, even against police officers," Paul told reporters.

Sabrina Lal, an elder sister of the murdered model who had been campaigning for the retrial, hailed the court order as historic.

"It is a historic and positive step that the high court has taken and our fears have been allayed that the accused may leave the country," she told reporters.

In a direct fallout, the federal Central Bureau of Investigation last week sought a legal opinion to ensure an early hearing in another high-profile unsolved case, the 1996 rape and murder of New Delhi college student Priyadarshani Mattoo.

The prime suspect Santosh Kumar Singh, son of a top police officer, was acquitted the same year. An appeal against the verdict has been stalled for a decade.

First Published: Mar 23, 2006 02:56 IST