Nine months after a gunman riding pillion on a motorcycle opened fire on journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh outside her house on September 5, 2017, the Special Investigation Team probing the case believe that they are nearing the finish line.
Investigators are confident of proving that 26-year-old Parashuram Waghmore was the man who pulled the trigger and killed Lankesh.
Waghmore — a Sri Ram Sene activist from the Karnataka-Maharashtra border town of Sindagi, Vijayapura district — who was recently arrested had reportedly confessed to carrying out the hit.
Such a confession, however, will not hold up in court. The police, aware of what was at stake have been scrambling to acquire a body of collaborative material evidence, which they now claim to have. This, despite the accused not using mobile phones as a safeguard against leaving a digital trail.
CCTV footage near Ms. Lankesh’s house showed three construction workers and a journalism student, all hailing from Raichur, walking on the road, as the gunman and the motorcycle rider sped past them after the murder. The killers were seen turning back and looking at the four witnesses.
During a recce
Waghmore was identified as one of the men. At the time, they were wearing helmets, but while they were waiting for Ms. Lankesh in front of her house, the witnesses had seen the duo without their faces covered, sources said.
Their statements, along with another shopkeeper who saw the men in the neighbourhood during a reconnaissance mission they had conducted earlier in the day, were critical in preparing sketches of the two men.
It was based on their accounts that the SIT had released three sketches of two men, and one bears a close resemblance to Waghmore. “What also strengthened the case is that the student and the shopkeeper have picked him out after an identification parade organised by the SIT,” said a senior police official with the SIT.
Investigators have also pieced together other circumstantial evidence: Waghmore and another prime accused Sujith Kumar alias Praveen had vacated a rented house they were staying in — at Seegehalli, West Bengaluru — just an hour after Gauri Lankesh was murdered. The landlord of the house Suresh has identified Waghmore and Praveen.
Forensic analysis of CCTV footage from Ms. Lankesh’s house put the height of the shooter at about 5 feet 2 inches.
Waghmore’s physique matches that of the gunman.
“There is a close resemblance to the man in the video and Waghmore. We will reconstruct the shootout at the crime scene with Waghmore and forensically compare that visual to the CCTV footage, which will conclusively say if the two are the same,” a senior official said.