Jessica Lall case examined

It is now clear that the investigation conducted by the Delhi Police left much to be desired, writes Pankaj Vohra.
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Updated on Feb 23, 2006 08:38 AM IST
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None | ByPankaj Vohra

If the nine accused in the Jessica Lall murder case have walked away free, it is abundantly clear that the investigation conducted by the Delhi Police left much to be desired.

Some persons who should have figured among the accused in the case were cited as witnesses. Certain leads which may have led to the killers were not followed. Information regarding some seizures was suppressed.

During the course of the trial, some serious legal lacuna were detected even in the registration of the FIR. Also, many responsible public figures and citizens who were present at the party at the Qutab Colonade on the fateful night of April 29, 1999 chose to look the other way and did not depose before the court.

From day one itself, it appeared that a cover-up of sorts had started. And if Manu Sharma was not the actual killer, then who was the police trying to shield?

Jessica's sister, Sabrina, told newspersons on Tuesday that the family had lost hope the day the main accused, Manu Sharma, was granted bail some years ago and had no spirit left to fight the rich and powerful people against whom it had been pitted.

But the point remains that there was no clinching evidence left against Manu Sharma, since even the main complainant, actor and model Shyan Munshi, refused to recognise him in the court and said that Manu Sharma did not shoot at Jessica.

In May 2001, HT had written that the prosecution case had turned very weak and it would be very difficult to convict anyone.

In fact, the prosecution case was stumped the moment Munshi substantiated the two-weapons theory introduced in the wake of the reports received from two forensic laboratories which said the shells recovered from the spot were from two different weapons.

And since no weapon of offence was recovered by the police, Munshi's statement that the shots were fired by two persons -- one in a white T-shirt and off-white trousers who fired in the air and the other in light-coloured clothes who fired at Jessica -- ensured that Manu Sharma got the much-needed reprieve.

Strangely, the first call received at the police control room on telephone number 100 had indicated that the killers had come on a motorcycle and one of them could have been a Sikh. This angle was never pursued subsequently.

One baffling aspect of the case was that a weapon recovered by the police from Manu Sharma's Delhi residence was never produced in the court, since it did not match the calibre of the slugs that were seized from the spot.

Also, the clothes which Jessica was wearing when she was shot have not been recovered. The hospital has no record of the clothes and neither do those who took her to the hospital.

Even before the police could conduct proper investigations and do the nishan dehi (re-enactment of the scene of crime), the crime spot had been disturbed. Normally, the police should have registered a case of destruction of evidence under Section 201 and of criminal conspiracy under 120(b) against the hosts. But no such thing was done.

While there is a general perception that the Ramanis were the only ones who testified, several legal experts are of the opinion that their testimony helped the defence more than the prosecution. While initial reports had suggested that Malini Ramani was present along with Jessica, it later transpired that she had left her side soon before the model was shot. Not present inside the hall, Bina Ramani rushed in on hearing the gunshots.

From the discrepancies which came to light during the trial it seems the police were trying to shield someone by attempting to establish a case against Manu Sharma, the main accused.

For instance, the court took a serious view about the discrepancies in the statements and sworn affidavit by the Mehrauli SHO Surinder Sharma and initial IO of the case Sunil Kumar.

It was pointed out that a three-page handwritten paper with the heading 'directions/instructions' was found in the file wherein directions to the initial IO had been given on how to go ahead with the case. For example there was a chronology of whose statements to record and who should say what. There were instructions even for Sabrina Lall who was to be persuaded to testify that she knew Manu and Gill, another accused, so that a motive could be established.

Sunil Kumar had admitted in court that it was in his handwriting and at one stage even the SHO said he was aware of the paper but later gave an affidavit in the high court denying that such a paper existed. He was pulled up by the trial court later.

Similarly, the prosecution case was made on the basis of three eyewitnesses. In his complaint Shayan Munshi had described the accused as 32 years old while Manu Sharma was only 23 at that time.

Strangely, the other two witnesses -- Shiv Dass, an electrician, and Karan Rajput, a relative of the restaurant manager -- were added a month after the murder. Their social strata did not suggest they should have been present at the party but Shiv Dass deposed in the court that he was on the roof taking off bulbs when the incident took place while Rajput said that he was in Punjab on the day of the incident.

The most baffling riddle: With all the accused having gone scot-free, who were Jessica's real killers?

Is it that the police -- in their enthusiasm to shield someone -- cooked up the case against the main accused but the case did not stand the test of evidence in the court? Is it true that on the morning of April 30 -- even before the police had gathered sufficient information -- directions were issued to arrest Manu Sharma at 9.30 a.m? Directions were also issued to get everyone's pictures -- except that of Vikas Yadav, whose photograph was perhaps affixed on May 18.

Whatever be the case, today all the accused stand legally acquitted.

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