New Delhi, Feb. 21: The missing gun that killed 34-year-old model Jessica Lal turned trump card for her alleged killers, all of whom were today acquitted by a Delhi court for lack of evidence.
Prime accused Manu Sharma, son of serving Haryana minister Vinod Sharma, walked free along with eight others after the court said the failure to recover any weapon was a serious “missing link” in the case.
Jessica was shot at point blank range on the intervening night of April 29 and 30 in 1999 at a party in Tamarind Court for refusing to serve drinks to a guest who landed up at 2 am.
Although the murder happened in full view of VIPs, businessmen, top industrialists and celebrities who showed up for the party thrown by Delhi socialite Bina Ramani and fashion designer Malini Ramani, few came forward to identify the accused.
Three key witnesses ' model-turned actor Shayan Munshi, one Karan Rajput and electrician Shiv Dass 'turned hostile, forcing the hand of additional sessions judge S.L. Bhayana.
The court said the missing gun was central to the case, and with the report of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory “not satisfactory”, it could not conclusively link the accused to the murder.
According to the prosecution, Manu alias Siddharth Vashisht fired two bullets after Jessica, playing celebrity bartender, refused to serve him. One was fired in the air and the other got her.
None of the 100 witnesses who were questioned corroborated this story.
To top this, the CFSL, which examined the bullets 'one recovered from the spot and the other lodged in Jessica’s body ' found they were not fired from the same weapon. Given such evidence, it was not possible to indict Manu, the court said.
Before turning hostile, Munshi had told the court he had gone to the interior of the Qutab Colonnade cafe around 2 am. A man then walked in and asked for drinks.
When Jessica told him the party was over, he allegedly took out a pistol and fired in the air. At the same time, another man drew a gun and shot Jessica from close range.
But later, Munshi pointed to Manu and said he was not the man who fired the first shot.
The other accused acquitted are Vikas Yadav, son of Uttar Pradesh politician D.P. Yadav; Tony Gill and Alok Khanna, senior officials in a soft drink company; Shyam Sunder Sharma, relative of former President Shankar Dayal Sharma; Yograj Singh, father of cricketer Yuvraj Singh; Vikas Gill, Harvinder Chopra and Raja Chopra.
While Vikas Yadav, Tony and Alok were facing charges of destruction of evidence, Sharma, Yograj, Vikas Gill, Harvinder and Raja were facing charges of destruction of evidence and harbouring an offender.
Jessica’s sister Sabrina said the verdict had not come as a shock. “We lost hope the day Manu Sharma got out on bail. I just stopped following the case after that. Since Shayan Munshi backed out, nothing can be done about it.”
Delhi police commissioner K.K. Paul declined comment when asked if police would move a higher court.