Murder of Jessica Lall

Infobox_Celebrity
name = Jessica Lall


imagesize = 150px
caption =
birth_date = birth date|1965|1|5|mf=y
birth_place = India flagicon|India
death_date = death date and age|1999|4|29|1965|1|5|mf=y
death_place = New Delhi IND
occupation = Actor, Model
salary =
networth =
website =

Jessica Lall (1965-1999) was a model in New Delhi, who was working as a celebrity barmaid at a crowded socialite party when she was shot dead on April 29, 1999 [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4783394.stm India campaign for murdered Delhi model] BBC News, Delhi, March 9, 2006.] . Dozens of witnesses pointed to Siddharth Vashisht, a.k.a. Manu Sharma, the son of Venod Sharma, a wealthy Congress politician in Haryana, as the murderer. The surname "Lall" is sometimes spelled "Lal" in the media.

In the ensuing trial over seven years, Manu Sharma and a number of others were acquitted on February 21, 2006.

Following intense media and public pressure, the prosecution appealed (a rare measure) and the Delhi High Court conducted proceedings on a fast track with daily hearings over 25 days. The lower court judgment was found faulty in law, and Manu Sharma was found guilty of having murdered Jessica Lall. He was sentenced to life on December 20, 2006.

Anatomy of a very public murder

During the summer of 1999, leading socialite Bina Ramani had been organizing, “Thursday Special” nights, at her newly opened “Tamarind Court” restaurant, at Qutb Colonnade, a refurbished haveli overlooking the Qutub Minar in Mehrauli .

On April 29, 1999, it was the seventh and last Thursday Special of the season; and also being celebrated was the foreign visit of Bina Ramani’s Canadian husband Georges Mailhot, for a period of six months. Though the restaurant was yet to receive its liquor license , drinks could be bought through discreetly marked ‘QC’ coupons, and on that night, several models and friends were serving drinks at the 'Once Upon A Time' bar, which included Jessica Lall, Bina Ramani’s daughter Malini Ramani, friends Shyan Munshi and others .

Previously, at 10 p.m., Manu Sharma alias Siddharth Vashisht, the 24-year-old son of former Union minister Venod Sharma, having skipped his planned visit to Chandigarh, drove up to the Friends Colony house of Amrinder Singh Gill (Tony), 32, a general manager of Coca-Cola bottling unit in Delhi, where they were joined by 30-year-old Alok Khanna, a colleague of Tony, and Vikas Yadav, son of Rajya Sabha member, D.P. Yadav, a politician from Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh. The four had a few drinks and then drove down to Mehrauli in two separate cars. They reached Tamarind Court in Qutub Colonnade, at 11.15 p.m. Manu Sharma had already attended one of the special Thursday nights, subsequently they ordered a few drinks and stayed on . Elsewhere in the town, event management specialist, Shahana Mukherjee, picked up, ramp model Jessica Lal from her house at 10 pm, and escorted her to a party, where she was to be the celebrity bartender that night, as was Shyan Munshi [ [http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/nov/05jess.htm I took Jessica to the party: Witness] Rediff.com, November 5, 2001.] .

As it was a busy night, so the drinks were soon over, at about 2 a.m. Manu Sharma, asked for a drink, which Jessica refused, he then tried to offer a thousand rupees, which she refused as well. Though there are many versions of what happened next, sometime soon, the inebriated and enraged Manu Sharma shot at Jessica twice at point blank range, the first bullet till the ceiling, while the second one proved fatal, as it hit Jessica, who was now kneeling over, on the temple and she fell unconscious immediately. Twenty minutes later, she was rushed to the Aashlok Hospital (in Safdurjung Enclave) in a car, and later succumbed to her injuries same night at the Apollo Hospital [http://www.india-today.com/itoday/17051999/cover.html Murder of a Model] India Today, May 17, 1999. ] .

In the ensuing melee, as the 90-odd celebrity guests and Delhi’s glitterati scattered around, the culprits Alok Khanna, Amardeep Singh Gill (Tony) and Vikas Yadav slipped away from the scene together in Alok’s car, while Manu Sharma hid in nearby village, one km away, for a while. The trio, dropped Amit Jhingan at his Vasant Kunj residence, and reached Tony’s ‘Friends Colony’ residence, where later Manu Sharma also joined them, after hitchhiking his way, on a two-wheeler.

Next, Manu Sharma called Amit Jhingan, in whose white Maruti gypsy, Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav and Amit, went over to the Mehrauli area beyond Qutub Colonnade, and asked Amit to dig out the weapon from sand pile, in a nearby village, where Manu had buried it while hiding, immediately after the shooting. Thereafter, Jhingan dropped Manu as Tony’s residence and returned home.

According to Police sources, Manu Sharma then called over, another friend named Titu, who was visiting India from USA, for a wedding, to MP D.P. Yadav’s residence where Vikas Yadav had gone hiding, there he was given the weapon for hiding. Whereabouts of Titu were never known and he ostensibly flew off to the USA, after hiding the weapon, a .22 bore pistol . Manu Sharma spent the night at Vikas Yadav’s Ghaziabad residence and the later their escape vehicle, a Tata Sierra, was found abandoned in NOIDA.

While Manu Sharma and most of his family continued to abscond, as did Vinod Sharma and his family [ [http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/may/03akd.htm Model's murderer continues to elude dragnet] Rediff.com, May 3, 1999.] [ [http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/may/03model.htm Former minister's family absconding after model's murder] Rediff.com, May 3, 1999.] , Alok Khanna and Amardeep Singh Gill (Tony) were arrested on May 4. On May 8, Bina Ramani, her husband, George Mailhot and her daughter Malini Ramani, were arrested under the Excise Act for running an illegal bar "Tamarind Court", after interrogation; also arrested was Manu Sharma’s accomplice, Amit Jhingan, from Vasant Kunj, under under Section 201 read with 120 (conspiring to destroy evidence), on the basis of disclosures made by Manu Sharma during interrogation. A Delhi court granted bail to the Ramanis, though their passports were seized with Bina Ramani being a British national, her husband, George Mailhot, a Canadian national, and Malini Ramani, a US national; and Amit Jhingan was remanded to judicial custody till May 21. [http://www.tribuneindia.com/1999/99may09/head.htm ] The Tribune, May 9, 1999.] [ [http://www.indianexpress.com/res/web/pIe/ie/daily/19990509/ige09066.html Another Manu friend arrested] Indian Express, May 9, 1999.]

On May 19, Vikas Yadav walked into the Delhi police headquarters and surrendered, but only hours later he walked out, as he carried anticipatory bail papers from Imphal Court, the police chose not to arrest him that day, as according to Manipur High Court orders, he was granted two months of bail as soon as he is arrested. Though talking to the press he said, “"Manu (the main accused) came to my house and wanted to spend the night there. I only allowed him to stay not knowing what had happened." [ [http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/may/19vikas1.htm Vikas Yadav surrenders, yet escapes arrest] Rediff.com, May 19, 1999.] Vikas Yadav was finally caught on May 30 . Later, on July 9, Delhi High Court cancelled his bail, yet Vikas Yadav managed to elude police custody for while [ [http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/jul/09jess.htm Vikas Yadav is on the run again] Rediff.com, July 9, 1999.] In September 1999, a sessions court granted Vikas Yadav interim bail with the direction that he had to surrender before the trial court a week before beginning of the trial and seek fresh bail, subsequently on May 17, 2001, he sent into judicial custody, though only to given bail once again, by a Delhi city court four days later < [ [http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/may/21jess.htm Vikas Yadav granted bail in Jessica murder case] Rediff.com, May 21, 2001.] .

On August 3, 1999, Delhi police filed the charge sheet in the court of Metropolitan Magistrate, wherein, Siddharth Vashisht alias Manu Sharma, has named the main accuse and charged under sections 302 (murder), 201 (destruction of evidence), 120(b) (criminal conspiracy) and 212 (harbouring suspects) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 27, 54 and 59 of the Arms Act. While other accused, like Vikas Yadav, Coca-Cola Company officials Alok Khanna and Amardeep Singh Gill (destroying evidence of the case and conspiracy); Shyam Sunder Sharma, Amit Jhingan, Yograj Singh, Harvinder Chopra, Vikas Gill, Raja Chopra, Ravinder Krishan Sudan and Dhanraj, were all charged variously under sections 120(b), 302, 201 and 212 of the IPC (for giving shelter to the accused and destroying evidence) [http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/aug/03jess.htm Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav charged with Jessica Lal's murder] Rediff.com, August 3, 1999.]

Manu Sharma gave a statement to the Police, which was taped, in which he admits shooting Jessica Lall. "The idea at that time was to shoot in challenge. It was embarrassing to hear that even if I paid a thousand bucks I would not get a sip of drink." This audiotape was obtained and aired by the TV channel NDTV but it does not constitute legal testimony. Subsequently however, the confession was retracted, and a not guilty plea was entered in the trial.

Manu Sharma is the son of one of the leading politicians in the state of Haryana, Venod Sharma, belonging to the Congress Party. Earlier a minister in the National Cabinet, Venod Sharma was a [http://haryana.gov.in/government/ministers.htm minister] in the Haryana government at the time the trial judgement was announced.

Subsequently, a sting operation by the newsmagazine Tehelka exposed how Venod Sharma paid bribes to win over key witnesses, and Venod Sharma resigned from the Haryana Ministry on October 6th 2006,

One of Manu's aunts is a daughter of erstwhile President of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma.

The initial trial

The Jessica Lall murder case went up for trial in August 1999, with Manu charged with murder and his friends charged of related crimes such as destroying evidence and sheltering criminal suspects.

Four of the witnesses who had initially said they had seen the murder happen, eventually turned hostile. Shyan Munshi, a model and friend who was serving drinks beside Jessica Lall, changed his story completely; as for earlier testimony recorded with the police, he said that the writing was in Hindi, a language he was not familiar with, and it should be repudiated. Karan Rajput and Shivdas Yadav also had not seen anything, while Parikshit Sagar said he had left the place before the incident. In a conversation with the sister of Jessica, Karan Rajput is alleged to have played a tape-recording [ [http://in.rediff.com/news/2001/may/21inter.htm rediff.com: The Rediff Interview/Ajit Lal, father of murder victim Jessica Lal ] ] discussing with some friends how Venod Sharma's people have "won over" several witnesses already.

Also, it appears that the cartridges used in the murder were altered. Although the gun was never recovered, these cartridges were for some reason sent for forensic evaluation, where it turned out that they had been fired from different weapons. This led to a further weakening of the prosecution case. Fact|date=February 2008

hayan Munshi's testimony

Shayan Munshi is the son of a well known ophthalmologist in Kolkata, where he studied at the reputed Don Bosco School. An aspiring model and an acquaintance of Jessica Lal's, Shayan Munshi was serving behind the bar with Jessica when the shooting occurred. In his initial statement he said unequivocally that Manu Sharma had fired the gun twice, once into the air, and once at Jessica. This testimony was recorded by the police in their First Information Report (FIR), which Shayan signed. However, during the trial he claimed that he did not know Hindi and that he was not aware of what he had signed.

At the trial, Shayan said that Manu Sharma had fired only once, and that also into the air. He described Manu's clothes carefully. Subsequently, he said that another bullet, fired by someone else, was the one to hit Jessica. About this man's dress, he was evasive, and saying only that he was wearing a "light-coloured" shirt. This led to the "two-gun theory" - with the forensic report said that the bullets were fired from different weapons.

Following the acquittal, there was intense pressure on Shayan Munshi, who was already launched on a successful modeling career. He was involved in hosting a cooking show [citenews |title=Anchors away |url=http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=120243] on TV and other activity.

On May 13, 2006, he was detained at Calcutta airport as he was about to board a flight for Bangkok, along with his wife Peeya Rai Chowdhary.

Acquittal by Lower Court

After extensive hearings with nearly a hundred witnesses, a Delhi trial court headed by Additional Sessions Judge S. L. Bhayana, acquitted 9 accused in Jessica Lall Murder case, on February 21, 2006. Those acquitted were, Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav, Manu's uncle Shyam Sundar Sharma, Amardeep Singh Gill and Alok Khanna, both former executives of a multinational soft drinks company, cricketer Yuvraj Singh's father Yograj Singh, Harvinder Chopra, Vikas Gill and Raja Chopra. In all, of the 12 accused, two, Ravinder Kishan Sudan and Dhanraj, were absconding while the trial court discharged Amit Jhingan at the time of framing of charges.

The ground for the acquittals according to the court was one, "“The police failed to recover the weapon which was used to fire at Jessica Lal as well as prove their theory that the two cartridges, emptied shells of which were recovered from the spot, were fired from one weapon,"; "“all three eyewitnesses listed by the police in its charge sheet, namely, Shiv Lal Yadav, an electrician at Tamarind Court, actor Shyan Munshi and Karan Rajput, a visitor at the restaurant that night, turning hostile during the trial”", in addition to this the police also failed to establish a complete chain of the circumstances leading to the incident and trace the murder weapon which according to it, was used in the crime. [ [http://www.thehindu.com/2006/02/22/stories/2006022214170100.htm All accused acquitted in Jessica Lal murder case] "The Hindu", Feb 22, 2006.]

Throughout his 179-page case verdict, Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) S L Bhayana said that police sought to 'create' and 'introduce false evidence' against Sharma. The judgment repeatedly hints that the prosecution may have attempted, from the very beginning, to fabricate the evidence and present false witnesses, so as to render the case indefensible. In conclusion, he agrees with "the counsel for the accused that on April 30, 1999 the police had decided to frame the accused," read the judgment.

The judgment faulted the police for deciding on the accused first and then collecting evidence against him, instead of letting the evidence lead them to the murderer. Since the prosecution had failed to establish guilt beyond doubt, all nine accused were acquitted.

Legal loopholes used

After the verdict many experts pointed fingers at the flaws in the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, especially Sections 25-29: 25. Confession to police officer not to be proved No confession made to a police officer shall be proved as against a person accused of any offence. 26. Confession by accused while in custody of police not to be proved against himNo confession made by any person whilst he is in the custody of a police officer, unless it be made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate, shall be proved as against such person. Though, the clauses were initially added for the protection of the defendants from giving confession under police torture, it was later exploited by many a guilty defendants as well, as in this case, where many a witnesses withdrew their testimony, after first giving it to the police during interrogation. [ [http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/2006/03/why-manu-sharma-got-away-with-it.html Why Manu Sharma Got Away With It] www.lehigh.edu,March 13, 2006.] .

The aftermath

In the immense uproar that followed, hundreds of thousands of people e-mailed and SMS-ed their outrage on petitions forwarded by media channels and newspapers to the President and others seeking remedies for the alleged miscarriage of justice. Soon, NDTV a news channel more than 200,000 cellphone text messages urging retrial . A poll conducted by the newspaper Hindustan Times showed that on a scale of 1 to 10, the public's faith in law enforcement in India was about 2.7Public pressure built up with newspapers splashing headlines such as "No one killed Jessica", and TV channels running SMS polls. Models, fashion designers, friends, relatives and others held candle-light vigils at India Gate in New Delhi to protest the verdict, followed by an even bigger candle light protest accompanied by a unique week long t-shirt campaign (slogan: we support re-investigation of Jessica Lal's murder, let the truth come out) in Manu Sharma's hometown, Chandigarh. The protest in Chandigarh was led by a young self-proclaimed activist (who now heads a Fight for Justice and Rights Organisation called "Middle Finger Protests"). Hundreds of students, mnc executives along with retired IAS and Army officers participated in the protest creating a scene that resembled one in a recent blockbuster Rang de Basanti [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/13/international/asia/13india.html Acquittal in Killing Unleashes Ire at India's Rich] New York Times March 13, 2006.] .

Surender Sharma, the police inspector responsible for the investigation, was transferred from the plum Hauz Khas position to a bureaucratic post. The police have also launched an inquiry against the possibly deliberate ineptness of their own earlier investigation.

On April 18, 2006, the a division bench comprising Justice Manmohan Sareen and Justice J M Malik released Manu Sharma on Rs 1 Lakh (USD 2000) bail. [cite web
title=Jessica case: Manu Sharma granted bail
author = Onkar Singh
url = http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/apr/18jessica.htm
accessdate = 2006-12-27
] They also pulled up the Delhi Police and urged them to ensure minimal delays in the re-trial process.

Appeal and Conviction in High Court

On March 25 2006, the Delhi High Court admitted an appeal by the police against the Jessica Lall murder acquittals, issuing bailable warrants against prime accused Manu Sharma and eight others and restraining them from leaving the country. This was not a re-trial, but merely an appeal based on evidence already marshalled in the lower court.

On September 9 2006, a sting operation by the news magazine Tehelka was shown on the TV channel Star News, which stated how the witnesses had been bribed and coerced into retracting their initial testimony. Venod Sharma was named in the expose as paying millions of rupees to some of the witnesses. cite news
publisher = Star News/Tehelka
url=http://www.tehelka.com/story_main19.asp?filename=Ne093006JESSICA.asp
title=Transcript of the news expose “Case Ke Kaatil”, produced by Tehelka, and aired on Star News (translation)
date=2006-09-26
accessdate=2006-10-07
] Facing pressure from the central Congress leaders (in view of forthcoming elections in the neighbouring state of Punjab), Venod Sharma resigned from the Haryana cabinet.

Judgement

On December 15, 2006, the High Court bench of Justice R S Sodhi and Justice P K Bhasin, in a 61-page judgement held Manu Sharma guilty based on existing evidence.

The judgement said that the lower court had been lax in not considering the testimony of witnesses such as Bina Ramani and Deepak Bhojwani: "With very great respect to the learned judge, we point out that this manner of testing thecredibility of the witness is hardly a rule of appreciation of evidence... Obviously, this reflects total lack of application of mind and suggests a hasty approach towards securing a particular end, namely the acquittal." [ [http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/dec/19jessica1.htm Key witness in Jessica case dubbed liar by HC ] ]

In particular, the key witness Shyan Munshi came in for serious criticism, and may be facing criminal proceedings. The judgement says, of his repudiating his own FIR: " [Munshi] is now claiming that the said statement was recorded in Hindi while he had narrated the whole story in English as he did not know Hindi atall... We do not find this explanation of Munshi to be convincing." Regarding Munshi's testimony about the two-gun theory, the judgement says: "In court he has taken a somersault and came out with a version that there were two gentlemen at the bar counter. ... [W] e have no manner of doubt that on this aspect he is telling a complete lie... " cite web
url = http://www.navhindtimes.com/articles.php?Story_ID=122127
title = Manu Sharma gets life term
author = PTI
date = 2006-12-20
accessdate = 2006-12-27
]

All 32 witnesses who turned hostile have been asked to appear before the court on February 21 to explain why they should not be tried for perjury.

On December 20, Manu Sharma was awarded life imprisonment. The other accused, Vikas Yadav and AmarDeep Singh Gill, were awarded four years of imprisonment for destroying evidence. [cite web
url = http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1070294
title = Manu Sharma gets life term
publisher = DNA, Mumbai
date = 2006-12-20
author = Sanghita Singh
accessdate = 2006-12-27
]

Manu Sharma's lawyer, R K Naseem said the decision would be appealed in Supreme Court, becausethe judgement was wrong in holding Bina Ramani to have been an eyewitness.

According to a widely circulated media report, Manu Sharma told a friend after the trial in Hindi:"mere bhaagya main yehi thaa. taqdeer kaa faislaa yehi thaa" (Such was my fate. This was decided by destiny).

There was widespread celebration of Manu's conviction on the media, where it was seen as evidence that the people's voice could move the wheels of justice. Given the past record in India of cases such as Sanjeev Nanda, it was felt that the Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo convictions finally indicated thateven the most powerful were not above the law.

The 2008 film, Halla Bol, made by Rajkumar Santoshi, is based around a murder similar to that of Jessica Lall's in a public bar, and shows similar public uprising upon the acquittal of the accused, leading to their eventual retrial, and sentencing [ [http://www.newkerala.com/one.php?action=fullnews&id=11401 Jan 11, newkerela.com] ] .

ee also

*Law in India
*Priyadarshini Mattoo: Similar murder case from 1996 with a well-connected suspect. In 1999, the court acquitted due to poor investigation. Culprit convicted on appeal by CBI to Delhi High Court
*Nitish Katara: another high profile murder case currently in trial.

References

External links

* [http://www.rediff.com/news/jessica.html Jessica Lal murder case Homepage]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/6189269.stm Jessica Lal murder related stories at BBC News]


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