On Wednesday, Mumbai sessions court judge MW Chandwani pronounced his verdict that met with disbelief among the digiterati: "On the basis of the confession coupled with the circumstantial evidence placed before the court by the prosecution, it has been proved that accused number two stabbed the deceased Neeraj Grover and therefore has killed Neeraj Grover."
Dressed in a white formal shirt and black trousers was accused number two -- navy lieutenant Emile Jerome. Seated next to him was his fiancee and accused number one -- small-time Kannada actress Maria Monica Susairaj. Both -- nervous, expressionless and calm -- listened to the judge pronouncing them guilty in the murder of television executive Neeraj Grover.
Jerome has been convicted on two counts, that of culpable homicide not amounting to murder under section 304 part one of the Indian Penal Code and destruction of evidence under section 201 of the IPC, while Maria Monica Susairaj has been held guilty only on the charge of destruction of evidence.
The sessions court judge, however, completely set aside the conspiracy theory placed before the court. The judge observed, "Looking into the circumstances which have been brought on record, and the confession statement of Maria Susairaj, it does not appear that accused number two (Emile Jerome) had pre-meditation to kill Neeraj Grover." The court thus took into account that Emile Jerome, who was posted at the Cochin naval base, came to Mumbai without any intention or preparation to kill Neeraj Grover.
The court also observed that Maria had a chance to back out, "but she went to the extent of going ahead with the plan."
The verdict hasn't really gone down well with the prosecution which expected the court to hand down convictions on the count of murder under section 302 of the IPC. "We are not satisfied with the verdict. We will press for the maximum punishment. We will definitely appeal against the verdict in the higher court," said chief public prosecutor RV Kini.
Kanpur-based Amarnath Grover, father of Neeraj Grover, expressed unhappiness over the verdict. He said, "It's a very disappointing judgment. If Maria has not killed my son, then who has? Maria was the main culprit who had called Jerome to her home leading to Grover's killing. Susairaj should not have been absolved of murder charges."
On Friday the court will hear arguments on the quantum of punishment from all three lawyers -- two for defence and one lawyer for the prosecution. However, Maria Susairaj stands to walk free on Friday as the maximum sentence for destruction of evidence is three years and she has already spent the time in jail.
Maria's lawyer, advocate Sharif Sheikh, said, "I wanted the court to decide on the sentencing today itself. Why should my client stay one day extra in jail? As it is, the maximum punishment for destruction of evidence is only three years and she has technically served her term."
On pronouncement of verdict Richard Susairaj, Maria's brother, was a relieved man. "I am very happy. Very relieved too. I will issue a statement tomorrow, right now I need to give the good news to my parents," he told the media-persons gathered at the courtroom.
An evidently relieved Maria Susairaj too was all smiles. On being asked if she should be congratulated, Maria waved and simply said, "Tomorrow!"
Meanwhile, hectic consultations have begun in the Jerome camp. His father, who has been attending the hearing since the past few days, was calm even as the conviction was handed down to his son.
"The reasoning given by the court clearly shows that it is a case of emotional disbursement, which the crime branch was hell bent on proving as a case of brutal murder. We have successfully managed to prove that it's not a case under section 302," said Jerome's lawyer, advocate Wahab Khan.
The maximum punishment for Jerome on the count of culpable homicide not amounting to murder is up to 10 years or life. Depending on the quantum of punishment that will be decided by the court, the family will consider their further legal course of action.
A television executive, Neeraj Grover was stabbed, his body hacked into pieces and disposed of near the Manor jungles outside Mumbai on May 7, 2008. The prosecution stated that Jerome had gone to Maria's residence in suburban Malad on that day, where he got into a fight with Grover, 26, during which the naval officer stabbed the victim to death. Susairaj and Jerome later cut Grover's body into pieces and disposed it of in the forest in neighbouring Thane.
Both the accused had been charged with murder, criminal conspiracy, common intent and causing disappearance of evidence.
The police had filed a chargesheet against the two accused on May 14, 2008. They were arrested on May 21, after which Maria led the police to Grover's body.
Maria's confession on May 28, 2008, corroborated the police's version of the murder.
On September 16, 2008, the court had rejected Maria's bail plea in the case.
In September 2009, there was a twist in the case when Maria's lawyers were accused of threatening witnesses and forcing them to turn hostile.
Another turn of events took place on May 10, 2010, when Maria's family members claimed she didn't even know Grover.
The court is now all set to pronounce the quantum of punishment on Friday.