The Supreme Court on Monday confirmed the Delhi High court judgment awarding life imprisonment to Manu Sharma, son of senior Congress leader and former Union Minister Vinod Sharma, in the Jessica Lal murder case.
A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Swatanter Kumar, dismissing three appeals, said: “The prosecution has established its case beyond doubt against the appellants [Sharma and two others] and we are in agreement with the conclusion arrived at by the High Court.”
The Bench said the High Court had rightly convicted the other accused also, Amardeep Singh Gill and Vikas Yadav, and awarded four-year rigorous imprisonment.
According to the prosecution, Jessica Lal was shot dead by Manu Sharma on the night of April 29-30, 1999 at Qutub Colonnade, also called Tamarind Cafe restaurant, owned by Bina Ramani, where a Thursday party was held. While the trial court in February 2006 acquitted the accused, the High Court in December 2006 convicted the accused.
Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “The evidence regarding the actual incident, the testimonies of witnesses, the evidence connecting the vehicles and cartridges to the accused — Manu Sharma, as well as his conduct after the incident prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The High Court has analysed all the evidence and arrived at the correct conclusion.”
The Bench relied on the testimonies of eyewitnesses Deepak Bhojwani, a businessman; model-turned-actor Shyan Munshi, fashion designer Malini Ramani, her mother Bina Ramani, George Mailhot (husband of Bina) and fashion designer Rohit Bal, who were at the party when Jessica was shot at.
“The presence of the accused [Manu Sharma] at the scene of crime is proved through the ocular testimonies of prosecution witnesses which were corroborated by the three calls made to the police control room after the incident.”
The only inference
The evidence of witnesses, if read in whole in conjunction and in harmony with what was stated by one another, would show the chain of circumstances of evidence leading to only one inference — guilt of the accused, the Bench said. It was proved beyond reasonable doubt that Manu Sharma absconded after the incident — a relevant conduct under the Evidence Act.
On the contention that he was innocent and that the High Court ought not to have reversed the acquittal, the Bench said the appellate court had all the powers to re-evaluate the evidence let in before the trial court as well as the conclusions reached.
“In this case, the High Court, by adhering to all the ingredients and by giving cogent and adequate reasons, reversed the order of acquittal.”
Ram Jethmalani, senior counsel for Manu Sharma, had argued that the appellant had been specifically targeted and maligned before and during the proceedings by the media, which proclaimed him guilty even after the acquittal by the trial court.
Rejecting this argument, the Bench said: “Certain articles and news items appearing in the newspapers immediately after the date of occurrence did cause certain confusion in the mind of the public as to the description and number of the actual assailants/suspects. It is unfortunate that trial by the media did, though to a very limited extent, affect the accused, but [was] not tantamount to a prejudice which should weigh with the court in taking any different view.”