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'We didn't want Manu Sharma to hang'
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February 23, 2006

Sabrina Lal, who runs a travel agency in New Delhi, is shocked by the judgment in the murder case, in which her sister Jessica was shot dead nearly seven years ago.

All the nine accused and two absconders were let off by a Delhi court on Tuesday for lack of evidence.

Jessica, a model and documentary filmmaker, was murdered on April 29, 1999 at the Tamarind Court restaurant owned by socialite Bina Ramani.

The Jessica Lal murder case

Sabrina and her father Ajit Lal tracked events in the case regularly and made sure they were present in court at every hearing till January 2002.

Clearly saddened by the judgment where all the accused including prime accused Manu Sharma were set free, Sabrina Lal told Senior Associate Editor Onkar Singh at her Delhi office that she does not think taking the case to the high court will make a difference.

Did you have any inkling that the judgment was going to be delivered on Tuesday?

We had no clue about the judgment being delivered on Tuesday. In fact, we were told that it would be done on Wednesday but as it transpired the judgment was read out 24 hours before. I had no idea at all.

Did the prosecution lawyer not tell you about it?

Nobody told me or any of the family about the judgment being read out on Tuesday. In fact, I have not been in touch with them because I had stopped going to court from January 2002.

Why did you lose interest in the case?

Because (the prime accused in the case) Manu Sharma got bail after being behind bars for two years and eight months.

In addition to that witnesses had started turning hostile. It was disgusting. I couldn't take it any more and hence the loss of interest in the case.

Are you saying you did not keep track of what was going on?

Besides reading in the newspapers about the hearing, I had no clue what was going on in the case.

Did Manu Sharma's parents come and meet your parents?

Yes, they came on December 27-28, 1999. My mother offered them a cup of tea. They said they were sorry about the incident and offered a huge bunch of flowers to my mom and dad and left.

They made sure that they came in at a time when I was not in Delhi, otherwise they wouldn't have had the guts to visit our house. I was in Goa [Images] then.

Were you shocked when you heard the judgment? What was your reaction?

Shock is not the right word. One had expected some kind of punishment.

Hearing the judgment makes you feel depressed.

I for one had expected that something on similar lines is going to happen. Of course, we are rattled by the judgment.

My father Ajit Lal has suffered two or three strokes. His mind has stopped functioning and hence he cannot even express himself.

The media, the police were all sure that it was an open and shut case. If everyone is going to be let off like this, then who is going to be caught?

Have you met Dr K K Paul, Delhi's commissioner of police, after the judgment?

What purpose would such a meeting serve? We all know who has committed the crime. That is the problem. Those who were at the party know it, the cops know it, every citizen of the country knows it. That is not the issue. The idea is to get a conviction and have the judicial system moving in the right direction.

Are you planning to move the high court?

We on our own are not doing anything. It is for the police to appeal against the judgment. But they too should have something to go on. The judgment was supposed to come today (Wednesday). I have not even seen the judgment.

The judge had all the evidence before him including the documents, seizures and other things. The fact of the matter is, from day one onwards when witnesses started turning hostile, the judge should have tried to find out why all this is happening. They should have relied more on the circumstantial evidence presented than look for unflinching evidence.

You must have expected that he would get at least a life sentence, if not the death penalty.

The death penalty was out of the question, and neither did we want Manu Sharma to hang. One did expect some kind of justice being done to Jessica who was killed for no fault of hers.

Do the rich get away with crime?

Did Manu Sharma know Jessica?

No. She did not know Manu Sharma.

Where did things go wrong?

From the word go. We had eyewitness Shayan Munshi (the model turned one-film actor) withdrawing his statement, then the forensic expert introduced the two gun theory.

The police made no effort to recover the murder weapon.

We are told that it was destroyed in Manali. But the police had enough evidence to prove that Manu Sharma's gun was a licensed weapon and he bought the ammunition from a shop in Haryana two days before the murder.

Jessica's real culprits are those who didn't speak up

Are you planning to write to President Kalam?

I would consider such a proposal if it can help us in getting justice.

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