Sessions judge M.W. Chandwani, who on Friday awarded three-year jail to Kannada actor Maria Susairaj and 10-year imprisonment to her fiancé Emile Jerome in the TV executive Neeraj Grover murder case, also imposed a fine of Rs. 1.50 lakh on them.

“Nothing can replace a son for parents in their old age,” the judge observed.

Earlier, Maria's lawyer Sharif Sheikh told the court here: “She is not a habitual offender. She is a lady of young age, unmarried. All these things should be considered while deciding the quantum.” He said she was a helpless woman who was forced to abet in the offence due to a threat to her life.

Earlier, public prosecutor R.V. Kini pointed to the gravity of the offence. Considering the active part played by Maria in destroying evidence and the manner in which the crime took place in May 2008, she should be given the maximum sentence of seven years and should also be made to pay fine.

While arguing for a heavy quantum of sentence to Jerome, Mr. Kini said he, given his naval background, could have easily overpowered Grover. There was no need to kill him.

According to Maria's confession, Mr. Kini said, she asked Jerome to call in a doctor after he stabbed Grover repeatedly. But Jerome said Grover would not die for the next four-five hours. “If he did not have the intention to kill and then chop the body, why did he say that the doctor was not needed? Was the provocation so severe?”

But Jerome's lawyer, Khan Abdul Wahab, said the former naval officer did not have the intention of killing anyone. “I did not join any international firm that I should make money. I joined the defence with the noble purpose of serving the nation,” Mr. Wahab said on behalf of Jerome.

He said the court should consider Jerome's educational background, young age and good conduct in jail. “I have dependent parents. The court should understand what my anxiety is. What do I do after I am released? Please leave me. I want to go back to my base. I will access all my options to join my base.”

Mr. Wahab pointed out that there was no judgment in which the court handed out life imprisonment under Section 304 (Part II), under which Jerome was convicted.

Judge Chandwani had earlier observed: “When he [Jerome] entered the room he was calm. This showed he did not have intention [to murder]. Obviously in a situation where a fiancé finds a stranger with his partner… it would upset a prudent man and he would lose control.”

On Friday, the judge said: “Accused no. 2 [Jerome] has already been given the benefit of the situation. The manner in which the crime happened and the body was chopped, and considering the conduct of the accused, in my opinion, he should be given a penalty of 10 years. [This sentence] would suffice for the purpose of justice,” he said.

But none of the three parties seemed happy with the verdict and all of them said they would go in appeal.

Mr. Shiekh said though Maria would walk free, she stood convicted of the offence. He said the conviction would be challenged.

The court asked Maria to pay a surety of Rs. 10,000 if the state moved the High Court in appeal.

Mr. Kini said he was shocked at the verdict. “We will, of course, file an appeal. The state did not expect both the accused to get away so lightly and had expected that they would be convicted under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC. But the court absolved them of murder charges.

Even Mr. Wahab said he was unhappy with the verdict. “We never admitted to the crime. We are going to challenge the conviction,” Jerome's lawyer told journalists.

However, Maria's brother Richard said he was relieved. “All we want to do now is leave this place as soon as possible and go back home.”

Jerome was seen deliberating with his lawyer for a very long time, after the verdict.

Asked for her reaction, Maria said: “I am just blank. How do you expect a convicted person to be happy?”

Neeraj's parents, who are based in Kanpur, have expressed their displeasure at the verdict. “Both are equally responsible for the murder. Why were they given different sentences,” asked Neeraj's father Amarnath Grover.

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