After some tough words and the issuance of non-bailable warrants, hostile witnesses in the Jessica Lal murder case on Thursday appeared before the Delhi high court that directed them to file their replies within two weeks.
Except for model-turned-Bollywood actor Shayan Munshi, the other hostile witnesses did not turn up in the court on Thursday morning, after which it issued the warrants against them.
A Division Bench of Justices R S Sodhi and P K Bhasin asked the witnesses to file replies explaining why they had retracted from their earlier statements to the police, and fixed February 19 as the date for further hearing of the matter.
The court directed state counsel Mukta Gupta to provide them copies of their statements recorded by police and testimonies of investigating officers who recorded their statements within two days.
Earlier, the bench issued non-bailable warrants against three witnesses -- Varun Shah, Mukesh Saini and Narayan Singh -- for failing to appear before it. The court cancelled the warrants when they appeared before the bench in the afternoon.
Police had served summons to 29 of 32 hostile witnesses. The other three witnesses -- Karan Rajput, Parikshit Sagar and Rupinder Singh Gill -- died during the course of trial.
On December 20, 2006, while sentencing prime accused Manu Sharma to life imprisonment for killing ramp model Jessica Lal on the intervening night of April 29-30, 1999, the bench had summoned all witnesses declared hostile by the prosecution during the trial.
Besides Munshi, those who were summoned included Andaleeb Sehgal, who is facing a probe in the Iraqi oil-for-food scam, Shiv Dass Yadav, an electrician at Tamarind Court Cafe, Prem Sagar Minocha, a ballistic expert, and Shankar Mukhia, an employee at Manu Sharma's farmhouse at Sambhalkha in Haryana.
Munshi, Yadav and Jagannath Jha were among the eyewitnesses who turned hostile during the trial of the case.
Some other persons, who knew co-accused Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill and were made witnesses in the case, were served notices to explain why they had changed their stand before the trial court.
Among them were Abhijit Ghosal, late Rupinder Singh Gill and Kulwinder Singh -- reportedly known to another accused Yograj Singh, father of cricketer Yuvraj Singh -- who resiled from their statement.
Jessica was killed by Manu Sharma, the son of former Haryana minister Venod Sharma, after she refused to serve him liquor at a party in Qutub Colonnade restaurant on the intervening night of April 29-30,1999.
In December, the Delhi high court convicted and sentenced Sharma to life imprisonment. It also sentenced co-accused Vikas Yadav, son of former member of Parliament D P Yadav, and Amardeep Singh Gill, a former general manager of Coca-Cola, to prison for four years for destroying evidence.