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Jessica Lall Case: Murder, a Media Campaign, Justice & Forgiveness

Jessica Lall’s sister Sabrina Lall has said she has “no objection” to the release of the man who murdered her.

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(This story was first published on 28 April 2018. It has been republished from The Quint's archives in light of Jessical Lall's sister Sabrina Lall's death.)

Snapshot

A murder. A media campaign. A fight for justice. A conviction. And now forgiveness.

Almost 20 years after Jessica Lall was shot point-blank, her sister Sabrina Lall said in April 2018 that she has “no objection” to the release of Siddartha Vashishta, better known as Manu Sharma – son of then Haryana Congress leader Venod Sharma. Manu was awarded life imprisonment in Tihar jail for shooting dead 34-year-old Jessica Lall on 30 May 1999, after she refused to serve him liquor.

Despite the incident occurring at a high-profile party, with dozens of witnesses, why was there a need for a public outcry to bring justice to Jessica?

Jessica Lall Case: Murder, a Media Campaign, Justice & Forgiveness

  1. 1. Timeline of the Case

    29-30 April 1999: Jessica Lall was shot at a party at the Tamarind Court restaurant, Qutub Colonnade, in South Delhi's Mehrauli on the intervening night of 29-30 April. She was declared brought dead at Apollo hospital.

    2 May 1999: While on the hunt for her killers, the Delhi Police recovered a Tata Safari belonging to Manu Sharma from Noida in Uttar Pradesh.

    6 May 1999: Four days letter, Sharma surrendered before a court in Chandigarh, along with ten other co-accused including Vikas Yadav, the son of UP politician DP Yadav.

    3 August 1999: Chargesheet filed against accused for killing Jessica under various sections of the IPC.

    31 January 2000: The magistrate court commits the case to a sessions court for trial.

    23 November 2000: The sessions court frames charges for murder against nine persons. It discharged one accused, Amit Jhingan, while declaring Ravinder Sudan alias Titu as the proclaimed offender.

    Journalist Siddharth Pandey, who was covering the case at the time, told The Quint: “Manu Sharma went from being in a sense of denial to accusing journalists of targeting him deliberately”.

    Pandey said Sharma and his family would surround themselves with henchmen, trying to skirt questions from journalists. However, since it was such a high-profile case, it was difficult for them to explicitly deny the allegations.

    May 2001: Many of the key eye-witnesses, including Bollywood actor Shayan Munshi, turned hostile in court.

    July 2001: Malini Ramani, a third eye-witness, identified Manu Sharma in court.

    October 2001: Bina Ramani – who owned Qutub Colonnade – and her husband George Mailhot, deposed and identified Manu Sharma in court.

    21 February 2006: The trial court acquitted all nine accused due to lack of evidence.

    13 March 2006: After the trial court verdict, the Delhi Police filed an appeal in the high court.

    18 December 2006: The high court convicted Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill alias Tony and acquits Aloke Khanna, Vikas Gill, Harvinder Singh Chopra, Raja Chopra, Shyam Sunder Sharma and Yograj Singh.

    Sunetra Chowdhary, currently the political editor of NDTV, says that she remembers watching the case unfold before her eyes. At the time, she was interning with Hindustan Times. Chowdhary noted that many of the accomplices of Sharma had, in fact, gone on to becoming repeat offenders. She told The Quint: “Vikas Yadav, who helped Manu Sharma in this case, went on to kill Nitish Kataria.”

    Vikas Yadav, the son of criminal turned politician DP Yadav, was convicted of murdering his sister’s husband Nitish Kataria.

    20 December 2006: The high court awarded life-imprisonment to main convict Manu Sharma with a fine of Rs 50,000 and also sentenced co-convicts Amardeep Singh Gill and Vikas Yadav to four years’ prison term with Rs. 3,000 fine each.

    19 April 2010: Dismissing Manu Sharma's plea, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and life term sentence.

    Expand
  2. 2. Two-Gun Theory, Hostile Witnesses: Attempts to Scuttle Probe

    With witnesses turning hostile, crucial evidences being tampered with and allegations being made of police colluding with the accused, the case grew murkier with every passing day.

    Bollywood actor Shayan Munshi, the complainant of the case and a primary witness of prosecution in the case, turned hostile in the trial court in 2001.

    The police lodged the FIR in the case on the basis of Munshi's statements, who was at the bar when Lall was shot. He later retracted his version in court and said the complaint was recorded in Hindi even though he didn't understand the language.

    In fact, Munshi was the one who introduced the two-gun theory during his deposition, which had ultimately become the primary defence of the convicts. He had said that there were two persons at the spot and that the two shots were fired from separate weapons.

    The two cartridges that were recovered from the spot were then sent for ballistic examination. Prem Kumar Manocha, the Deputy Director of State Forensic Laboratory, Rajasthan had said a conclusive opinion could not given until the firearm was available for testing. However, during trial, he changed his stand and deposed that inspection of the two cartridges revealed that they were were not fired from the same firearm.

    After Munshi, the other witnesses began turning hostile in court in May 2001 – from Shiv Das, an electrician at Qutub Colonnade to Karan Rajput, a third key eye witness.

    In May, 2013, the Delhi High Court ordered perjury proceedings of Munshi and PS Manocha and absolved 17 other witnesses of the charge.

    Sunetra Chowdhary said that when the case was being heard in the courts, apart from hostile witnesses, the major problem was the line of questioning and several attempts to intimidate witnesses and to shame the victim. She said: “Ram Jethmalani, who was the defence lawyer, tried to intimidate and shame Jessica’s family by questioning her character since she was working as a bartender.”
    Expand
  3. 3. Candlelight Vigils and a Media Campaign That Took the Justice System by Storm

    The acquittal by the trial court in 2006 sparked candle-light vigils, a media campaign and a rise in dissenting voices of the country's middle-class – who took no time to gather at Delhi's India Gate to protest denial of justice. Pandey believes it was the media glare that helped Jessica get justice.

    The fact that this case got the kind of highlight it did is perhaps one of the reasons why it ended with a conviction. Worse crimes have happened with far more compelling evidences but because there hasn’t been a media attention, justice hasn’t been served.
    Siddharth Pandey, Journalist

    News channel NDTV launched a ‘Fight for Jessica Lall’ SMS campaign that gained momentum as the battle cry grew louder. Sonia Singh, who led the NDTV campaign, wrote in her book More News is Good News:

    "My colleagues and I felt very strongly that there had to be some way to address an injustice which summed up in so many ways the collapse of a system. How the intersection of many factors – power, wealth, pliable investigators, judicial delays had all collectively contributed to a verdict which, as a newspaper headline said, meant that no one killed Jessica. What it added up to was that we all killed Jessica by letting justice die the way it did".

    News magazine Tehelka carried out a three-month sting operation against the three hostile witnesses – Shayan Munshi, Karan Rajput, and Shiv Das.

    The operation sought to reveal how money and muscle power was allegedly used to coerce the three witnesses into changing their stand in court despite having given statements to the police accusing Manu Sharma of the crime.

    Expand
  4. 4. What is the Guideline for Review of Prisoners?

    In a letter to the welfare officer of Central Jail No 2 in March 2018, Sabrina Lall wrote that owing to Sharma's good conduct in jail she is willing to forgive him and move on with his life.

    But according to a Times of India report, Sharma, who was lodged in Tihar jail, was allowed frequent paroles during his term. According to the report, Sharma was spotted getting into a brawl at a pub when he was out on a parole in 2009, supposedly to see his ill mother. After reports of the brawl drew furore, Sharma was asked to return to jail 12 days before the expiry of his 30-day parole. The Delhi government, headed by Sheila Dikshit at that time, had come under fire for giving a month-long parole to Sharma although the state home secretary had recommended a 15-day relief.

    Sharma was also granted 18-day parole to pursue his LLB course and to get his marriage registered. The Times of India quoted earlier reports to say that Sharma was accused of stepping out of jail and spending time in his father's hotel located nearby. His lawyers had denied the allegations and there were reports that one of the jail official's son allegedly landed a job at the hotel.

    A Hindustan Times report said that Sharma was transferred to an open jail around three months ago for his "good conduct". In an open jail, an inmate can step out every day and go to work and return at a specified time in the evening. The only conditions are that the inmate cannot leave the city or go anywhere else apart from the workplace mentioned in the transfer order.

    A convict who has served at least 12 years are first transferred to a semi-open jail and thereafter are eligible for transfer to the open jail. Semi-open jail inmates are allowed to work and move freely within the jail complex. Both categories of inmates live in rooms instead of barracks.

    The Hindustan Times report said that many prison officials saw Sharma's shift to an open jail as the last step before he could be due for release or remission by the State Review Board. Sharma, according to the HT report, has spent at least 15 years in jail including the time before he was convicted.

    According to the guidelines for premature release of prisoners: “Every convicted prisoner whether male or female undergoing sentence of life imprisonment and covered by the provisions of Section 433A CrPC shall be eligible to be considered for premature release from the prison immediately after serving out the sentence of 14 years of actual imprisonment i.e. without the remissions.”

    However, the guidelines also clarify that simply completing 14 years in prison doesn't promise an automatic release from the sentence. The decision also depends on “whether the convict has lost his potential for committing crime considering his overall conduct in jail during the 14 years of incarceration; the possibility of reclaiming the convict as a useful member of the society; and the socio-economic condition of the convict’s family”.

    In Manu Sharma's case, even though Sabrina Lall said she has "no objections" to his release, the convict's fate will be sealed by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal after the jail's Sentence Review Board (SRB) submits a report.

    The SRB is a statutory body with the Delhi Home Minister, Law Secretary and Home Secretary among its seven to eight members. The members reviewed the jail and police reports and the social welfare reports of 40-50 prisoners to take a final decision on the proposals for their release. The report was then forwarded to Delhi Lieutenant Governor, who will take the final decision.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Timeline of the Case

29-30 April 1999: Jessica Lall was shot at a party at the Tamarind Court restaurant, Qutub Colonnade, in South Delhi's Mehrauli on the intervening night of 29-30 April. She was declared brought dead at Apollo hospital.

2 May 1999: While on the hunt for her killers, the Delhi Police recovered a Tata Safari belonging to Manu Sharma from Noida in Uttar Pradesh.

6 May 1999: Four days letter, Sharma surrendered before a court in Chandigarh, along with ten other co-accused including Vikas Yadav, the son of UP politician DP Yadav.

3 August 1999: Chargesheet filed against accused for killing Jessica under various sections of the IPC.

31 January 2000: The magistrate court commits the case to a sessions court for trial.

23 November 2000: The sessions court frames charges for murder against nine persons. It discharged one accused, Amit Jhingan, while declaring Ravinder Sudan alias Titu as the proclaimed offender.

Journalist Siddharth Pandey, who was covering the case at the time, told The Quint: “Manu Sharma went from being in a sense of denial to accusing journalists of targeting him deliberately”.

Pandey said Sharma and his family would surround themselves with henchmen, trying to skirt questions from journalists. However, since it was such a high-profile case, it was difficult for them to explicitly deny the allegations.

May 2001: Many of the key eye-witnesses, including Bollywood actor Shayan Munshi, turned hostile in court.

July 2001: Malini Ramani, a third eye-witness, identified Manu Sharma in court.

October 2001: Bina Ramani – who owned Qutub Colonnade – and her husband George Mailhot, deposed and identified Manu Sharma in court.

21 February 2006: The trial court acquitted all nine accused due to lack of evidence.

13 March 2006: After the trial court verdict, the Delhi Police filed an appeal in the high court.

18 December 2006: The high court convicted Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill alias Tony and acquits Aloke Khanna, Vikas Gill, Harvinder Singh Chopra, Raja Chopra, Shyam Sunder Sharma and Yograj Singh.

Sunetra Chowdhary, currently the political editor of NDTV, says that she remembers watching the case unfold before her eyes. At the time, she was interning with Hindustan Times. Chowdhary noted that many of the accomplices of Sharma had, in fact, gone on to becoming repeat offenders. She told The Quint: “Vikas Yadav, who helped Manu Sharma in this case, went on to kill Nitish Kataria.”

Vikas Yadav, the son of criminal turned politician DP Yadav, was convicted of murdering his sister’s husband Nitish Kataria.

20 December 2006: The high court awarded life-imprisonment to main convict Manu Sharma with a fine of Rs 50,000 and also sentenced co-convicts Amardeep Singh Gill and Vikas Yadav to four years’ prison term with Rs. 3,000 fine each.

19 April 2010: Dismissing Manu Sharma's plea, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and life term sentence.

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Two-Gun Theory, Hostile Witnesses: Attempts to Scuttle Probe

With witnesses turning hostile, crucial evidences being tampered with and allegations being made of police colluding with the accused, the case grew murkier with every passing day.

Bollywood actor Shayan Munshi, the complainant of the case and a primary witness of prosecution in the case, turned hostile in the trial court in 2001.

The police lodged the FIR in the case on the basis of Munshi's statements, who was at the bar when Lall was shot. He later retracted his version in court and said the complaint was recorded in Hindi even though he didn't understand the language.

In fact, Munshi was the one who introduced the two-gun theory during his deposition, which had ultimately become the primary defence of the convicts. He had said that there were two persons at the spot and that the two shots were fired from separate weapons.

The two cartridges that were recovered from the spot were then sent for ballistic examination. Prem Kumar Manocha, the Deputy Director of State Forensic Laboratory, Rajasthan had said a conclusive opinion could not given until the firearm was available for testing. However, during trial, he changed his stand and deposed that inspection of the two cartridges revealed that they were were not fired from the same firearm.

After Munshi, the other witnesses began turning hostile in court in May 2001 – from Shiv Das, an electrician at Qutub Colonnade to Karan Rajput, a third key eye witness.

In May, 2013, the Delhi High Court ordered perjury proceedings of Munshi and PS Manocha and absolved 17 other witnesses of the charge.

Sunetra Chowdhary said that when the case was being heard in the courts, apart from hostile witnesses, the major problem was the line of questioning and several attempts to intimidate witnesses and to shame the victim. She said: “Ram Jethmalani, who was the defence lawyer, tried to intimidate and shame Jessica’s family by questioning her character since she was working as a bartender.”

Candlelight Vigils and a Media Campaign That Took the Justice System by Storm

The acquittal by the trial court in 2006 sparked candle-light vigils, a media campaign and a rise in dissenting voices of the country's middle-class – who took no time to gather at Delhi's India Gate to protest denial of justice. Pandey believes it was the media glare that helped Jessica get justice.

The fact that this case got the kind of highlight it did is perhaps one of the reasons why it ended with a conviction. Worse crimes have happened with far more compelling evidences but because there hasn’t been a media attention, justice hasn’t been served.
Siddharth Pandey, Journalist

News channel NDTV launched a ‘Fight for Jessica Lall’ SMS campaign that gained momentum as the battle cry grew louder. Sonia Singh, who led the NDTV campaign, wrote in her book More News is Good News:

"My colleagues and I felt very strongly that there had to be some way to address an injustice which summed up in so many ways the collapse of a system. How the intersection of many factors – power, wealth, pliable investigators, judicial delays had all collectively contributed to a verdict which, as a newspaper headline said, meant that no one killed Jessica. What it added up to was that we all killed Jessica by letting justice die the way it did".

News magazine Tehelka carried out a three-month sting operation against the three hostile witnesses – Shayan Munshi, Karan Rajput, and Shiv Das.

The operation sought to reveal how money and muscle power was allegedly used to coerce the three witnesses into changing their stand in court despite having given statements to the police accusing Manu Sharma of the crime.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What is the Guideline for Review of Prisoners?

In a letter to the welfare officer of Central Jail No 2 in March 2018, Sabrina Lall wrote that owing to Sharma's good conduct in jail she is willing to forgive him and move on with his life.

But according to a Times of India report, Sharma, who was lodged in Tihar jail, was allowed frequent paroles during his term. According to the report, Sharma was spotted getting into a brawl at a pub when he was out on a parole in 2009, supposedly to see his ill mother. After reports of the brawl drew furore, Sharma was asked to return to jail 12 days before the expiry of his 30-day parole. The Delhi government, headed by Sheila Dikshit at that time, had come under fire for giving a month-long parole to Sharma although the state home secretary had recommended a 15-day relief.

Sharma was also granted 18-day parole to pursue his LLB course and to get his marriage registered. The Times of India quoted earlier reports to say that Sharma was accused of stepping out of jail and spending time in his father's hotel located nearby. His lawyers had denied the allegations and there were reports that one of the jail official's son allegedly landed a job at the hotel.

A Hindustan Times report said that Sharma was transferred to an open jail around three months ago for his "good conduct". In an open jail, an inmate can step out every day and go to work and return at a specified time in the evening. The only conditions are that the inmate cannot leave the city or go anywhere else apart from the workplace mentioned in the transfer order.

A convict who has served at least 12 years are first transferred to a semi-open jail and thereafter are eligible for transfer to the open jail. Semi-open jail inmates are allowed to work and move freely within the jail complex. Both categories of inmates live in rooms instead of barracks.

The Hindustan Times report said that many prison officials saw Sharma's shift to an open jail as the last step before he could be due for release or remission by the State Review Board. Sharma, according to the HT report, has spent at least 15 years in jail including the time before he was convicted.

According to the guidelines for premature release of prisoners: “Every convicted prisoner whether male or female undergoing sentence of life imprisonment and covered by the provisions of Section 433A CrPC shall be eligible to be considered for premature release from the prison immediately after serving out the sentence of 14 years of actual imprisonment i.e. without the remissions.”

However, the guidelines also clarify that simply completing 14 years in prison doesn't promise an automatic release from the sentence. The decision also depends on “whether the convict has lost his potential for committing crime considering his overall conduct in jail during the 14 years of incarceration; the possibility of reclaiming the convict as a useful member of the society; and the socio-economic condition of the convict’s family”.

In Manu Sharma's case, even though Sabrina Lall said she has "no objections" to his release, the convict's fate will be sealed by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal after the jail's Sentence Review Board (SRB) submits a report.

The SRB is a statutory body with the Delhi Home Minister, Law Secretary and Home Secretary among its seven to eight members. The members reviewed the jail and police reports and the social welfare reports of 40-50 prisoners to take a final decision on the proposals for their release. The report was then forwarded to Delhi Lieutenant Governor, who will take the final decision.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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