| Manu Mittal being taken to jail after the verdict. (PTI)
Lucknow, March 26: Manu Mittal, who masterminded the murder of S. Manjunath, was sentenced to death today and his seven accomplices were awarded life terms.
The 27-year-old IIM Lucknow graduate and sales executive of the Indian Oil Corporation had been shot dead on November 19, 2005, for blowing the whistle on an adulteration racket in a petrol pump run by Mittal’s family in Lakhimpur-Kheri, 150 km from here.
Delivering the verdict before a packed courtroom after a year-long trial, Lakhimpur-Kheri district and sessions judge S.M. Abidi said Mittal was the one who pulled the trigger and had a motive to kill. “He, therefore, will be hanged till death.”
The judge added: “It is a planned murder. The victim was unarmed when put to death. He was put to death without provocation. Hence, I reach the conclusion that it is a rarest among rare case.”
Police had named Mittal, alias Pawan, as the key accused in their chargesheet. The court had on March 23 pronounced the eight guilty of murder, conspiracy and destruction of evidence.
Mittal was directly assisted by Devesh Agnihotri and Rajesh Verma, the prosecution alleged during the hearing and demanded capital punishment for the two. But the court awarded rigorous life imprisonment to all the seven accused, other than Mittal.
Manjunath’s lawyer I.B. Singh said he would move the high court seeking death for Agnihotri and Verma. “These two accused… not only provided weapons but also were present during the murder. They were also part of the conspiracy to murder Manjunath.”
Manjunath’s father M. Shanmugam, who heard about the verdict from reporters present at the hearing, was moved to tears. “The judiciary is the voice of God to us today as it has finally brought us justice,” he said. “We are grateful to the judiciary and the prosecution.”
Police sources said Agnihotri is a history-sheeter accused of 10 more crimes.
Apart from Agnihotri and Verma, the five others handed life terms are Rakesh Anand, Vivek Sharma, Sanjay Awasthi, Shivkesh Giri and Harish Mishra.
All the eight accused were also sentenced to imprisonment ranging from six months to seven years under the Indian Penal Code, besides a seven-year term and a fine of Rs 8,000 each under Section 120b (criminal conspiracy). All the sentences will run concurrently.
Defence lawyer Vidyadhar Pande, too, has decided to appeal to the high court, alleging unfair probe. “We are not happy with the procedure of the investigation. We will go to the high court. There was no clinching evidence in the case against the accused persons and I am not happy at all with the way it was carried out.”
Manjunath’s bullet-ridden body was found the morning after his death while it was being taken in his own car to be dumped at a vacant place, about 12 km from the petrol pump where he was killed.
The Manjunath Shanmugam Trust welcomed the judgment as “encouraging to those who are fighting corruption across the country”.
IIM Lucknow director Devi Singh said: “We are happy that the guilty have been punished. But it is sad that a real honest officer had to lay down his life for this cause.”