Wed, Dec 20, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Politician's son guilty of model's murder in India

HIGH COURT VERDICT The decision overturns a controversial lower court ruling that found Manu Sharma not guilty in the 1999 death of Jessica Lall

AGENCIES , NEW DELHI

The son of a wealthy Indian politician found guilty in the 1999 killing of a model has surrendered to police, news reports said yesterday.

Manu Sharma, who could face the death penalty when he is sentenced today, shot Jessica Lall after she refused to serve him a drink at an upscale New Delhi bar because it was closing time, the New Delhi High Court found on Monday.

Lall, who was a model and celebrity, was serving drinks for one evening at a party at the bar.

According to the prosecution, Sharma took out a pistol when he was refused a drink and said "I will do it my way" before shooting once in the air and then firing a single bullet at Lall.

AWAITING SENTENCING

Sharma was taken to New Delhi's high-security Tihar Jail, while he awaits sentencing, the Press Trust of India (PTI) agency reported.

Justices R.S. Sodhi and P.K. Bhasin in their judgment said that ``We have no hesitation in reaching the conclusion that Manu Sharma [is] guilty'' of murdering Lall, PTI reported earlier.

A lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, confirmed PTI's account.

The case was seen as a test of the judiciary's willingness to take on powerful people accused of criminal offenses.

The trial made headlines after a lower court acquitted Sharma earlier this year. Dozens of people witnessed the killing, but most later recanted their testimony as the case moved through the courts for six years.

PUBLIC CRITICISM

The earlier acquittal drew sharp criticism from New Delhi's citizens, who held street protests for several days, forcing authorities to reopen the investigation. One TV news station delivering a petition to the president signed by more than 200,000 people.

Sharma, then 24, is the son of of Venod Sharma, a former federal minister from the northern state of Haryana.

The High Court on Monday also found Sharma's friends Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill guilty of destroying evidence and helping Sharma escape, independent CNN-IBN news channel reported.

Six others charged with destruction of evidence and providing shelter and help to Sharma were acquitted.

India's courts are so slow that cases can take decades to resolve, bribery is often openly demanded and the powerful seldom face prosecution.

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