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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 December 2006, 09:14 GMT
Life term for Indian model killer
Manu Sharma after the sentencing outside Delhi High Court
Sharma plans to appeal against his sentence
The son of a senior politician from India's governing Congress party has been sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a model in 1999.

Manu Sharma, son of former federal minister Venod Sharma, was convicted of shooting Jessica Lal dead in Delhi.

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

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

I am really happy with the judgement. I really could not ask for more
Jessica Lal's sister, Sabrina

The Delhi high court also ordered Sharma to pay 50,000 rupees ($1,100) in compensation to Jessica Lal's family.

"The court said since it was not a pre-planned murder, Manu Sharma will serve a life sentence," RD Rana, one of Sharma's lawyers, told reporters.

The prosecution had demanded that Sharma be sentenced to death.

Two of his friends, Vikas Yadav, the son of another politician, and Amardeep Singh Gill, a former manager with Coca Cola, were sentenced to four years in jail for destroying evidence.

"I am really happy with the judgement. I really could not ask for more," the murdered model's sister, Sabrina Lal, told reporters after the sentencing.

Manu Sharma's lawyers say they plan to appeal against his conviction in the Supreme Court.

'Conspiracy'

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

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.

Jessica Lal
Prosecutors said Ms Lal was shot for refusing to serve a drink

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

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

Campaigners said it had been 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.

Observers say the sustained media campaigns and public protests 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

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