[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2006, 16:09 GMT
Guilty verdict over model murder
Jessica Lal
Eyewitnesses said Ms Lal was shot for refusing to serve a drink
A court in India has found the son of a governing Congress party politician guilty of murdering a model in 1999.

Manu Sharma, son of former federal minister Venod Sharma, was convicted of shooting Jessica Lal dead at a fashionable restaurant in the capital.

The case was reopened after he and eight others were acquitted in February, prompting a public outcry.

Campaigners say media pressure mounted over the case has encouraged the courts to take on India's rich and powerful.

'Conspiracy'

Prosecutors said Manu Sharma fired at Jessica Lal after she refused to serve him a drink at the restaurant where she was working as a waitress.

We have no hesitation in holding Sidharth Vashisht, alias Manu Sharma, guilty of the offence of murder
Delhi high court judges

Several eyewitnesses came forward to the police, but by the time the case came to trial seven years later key eyewitnesses had retracted their statements.

The trial finally collapsed in February 2006 when the lower court judge said the prosecution's case contained loopholes and there was insufficient evidence to convict.

The acquittals sparked public outrage, with protest rallies and a sustained media campaign launched to demand justice for Jessica Lal, who was 34 when she was killed.

Police appealed against the acquittals and opened an investigation into allegations that there had been a conspiracy to pervert justice.

Manu Sharma, convicted of murdering Jessica Lal
Sharma has still to be sentenced

Several witnesses and police officials involved in the case were questioned.

Delivering their verdict on Monday, two high court judges in the capital said: "We have no hesitation in holding Sidharth Vashisht, alias Manu Sharma, guilty of the offence of murder."

Sharma will be sentenced later this week.

Jessica Lal's sister, Sabrina, told the BBC: "We feel vindicated. It's a big day for us.

"My basic aim in life was that Manu Sharma should be convicted, people should acknowledge the fact that he killed my sister and that's happened today."

Landmark campaign

Campaigners say this was the latest in a long line of cases where members of India's elite had been able to manipulate the law and get away with murder.

But the pressure mounted over the Jessica Lal case is seen as a turning point in efforts to bring the rich to justice.

After the February acquittals there was a huge outcry in the Indian media and students led candlelight vigils in Delhi to demand justice for the murdered model.

Observers say the case encouraged sustained media campaigns and public protests which have resulted in other cases being reopened and convictions secured.

In October, the son of a former senior policeman was convicted of raping and murdering Delhi student Priyardishini Mattoo in 1996.

Earlier this month, former Indian cricketer Navjot Sidhu was sentenced to three years in prison for manslaughter after beating a man in a dispute over a parking space.

His acquittal, too, was overturned on appeal.


SEE ALSO
India's elite feel courts' heat
18 Dec 06 |  South Asia
Justice delayed, but not denied
17 Oct 06 |  South Asia
Fresh probe over socialite murder
06 Mar 06 |  South Asia
Nine acquitted over model murder
21 Feb 06 |  South Asia
Indian held in murder scandal
06 May 99 |  South Asia

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific