Justice For Jessica Upheld

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MORE THAN 10 years after the shocking murder of model Jessica Lall, the Supreme Court, on April 19, upheld the life sentence for accused Manu Sharma. TEHELKA’s expose had uncovered the truth buried under heaps of money and muscle power, giving investigators crucial evidence on how eyewitnesses were influenced by Sharma’s politically-connected family.

“The evidence regarding the actual incident, the testimonies of witnesses… as well as his (Manu Sharma’s) conduct after the incident, prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” said a bench comprising Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Swatanter Kumar.

Jessica’s sister Sabrina Lall and retired Delhi High Court judge RS Sodhi have now demanded action against witnesses who lied on oath. TEHELKA spycams have evidence of these lies.

It all began on April 29, 1999. Time: 2 am. Venue: Tamarind Court, an up-scale New Delhi restaurant. Siddharth Vashisht, alias Manu Sharma, son of Congress leader Venod Sharma walked into the bar and demanded a drink. Jessica Lall, a model and celebrity bartender refused to serve him. He shot her dead in a room packed with Delhi’s power elite — actors, models, bureaucrats and police officers.

Two days later, Manu Sharma’s abandoned Tata Safari car, seen earlier at the club, was found in Noida. Sharma then surrendered to the police, but denied that he killed Jessica.

It was an open and shut case. Three eyewitnesses — Karan Rajput, Shayan Munshi and Shiv Das — were more than enough to ensure a life sentence. All three recounted the events. Their testimonies were identical — the killer had first fired in the air and then at Jessica. They also identified the man in the ‘white T-shirt’ as the murderer. They had even gone to the police station, identified Manu and put their signatures on his photograph. Manu too, in his testimony to the police, had confessed to the crime. But conviction is another matter. Manu Sharma walked away a free man. One by one, each witness turned hostile. A trial court in Delhi acquitted Sharma in February 2006.

A three-month long TEHELKA sting operation, aired on Star News in September 2006 — blew the lid off all the conjecture: witnesses had been boughtoff or threatened into silence. TEHELKA’s investigation added to the groundswell of public outcry. Venod Sharma was forced to quit his post in the Haryana government. And the Delhi High Court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding Manu Sharma guilty.

The admissions to TEHELKA’s spycams were unabashed. They showed how Congress politician Venod Sharma had abused power and money: Karan Rajput had been bought over. Though Rajput died of a liver disease, three people — his nephew, Jitender Raj (a waiter in Tamarind Court), a friend and his landlord, vouched on spycams that Rajput had been paid at least Rs 25 lakh. “He (Karan) never worked after the murder,” Jitender told TEHELKA.

SHAYAN MUNSHI, a model and Jessica’s friend, told TEHELKA that the Sharmas were very powerful people. Munshi earlier said he saw Manu Sharma fire the gun twice, but turned hostile in 2001. He did not identify Sharma in court and said his earlier statement against Sharma should be disregarded because it was written in Hindi, a language he was not familiar with. By this time, Munshi had acted in a Bollywood movie. TEHELKA met him posing as a casting agent and producer of an Indo-British, bilingual production. Munshi walked the extra mile to prove his Hindi skills, even proving his efficiency in different Hindi dialects. He even admitted, “everyone knows who did it, so why are they beating around the bush.”

Shiv Das, an electrician at Tamarind Court, admitted that he had been intimidated. “My first statement was the truth, so was everyone’s,” he told TEHELKA.

After the Delhi High Court’s guilty verdict, Sharma had appealed to the Supreme Court. The SC’s verdict this week caps a case that had come to symbolise an ordinary citizen’s fight against the powerful, and gives hope that, however delayed, justice is doable.

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