The Supreme Court on Tuesday commenced the hearing on an appeal filed by Manu Sharma, challenging his conviction and life sentence in the Jessica Lall murder case, with his counsel alleging the Delhi high court bench had made up its mind to hold him guilty.
Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Sharma, said the high court bench headed by Justice R S Sodhi (since retired) had declined his plea to recuse itself from hearing the appeal against his acquittal, after the media started negative publicity and linking him with the judge.
Narrating the sequence of events for which he wanted the bench of Justice Sodhi to recuse itself from hearing the matter, he alleged that from everyday hearing, it was clear that the HC bench was going to reverse the decision of the trial court acquitting Sharma.
"Justice Sodhi and his bench had made up its mind that he (Sharma) has to go (to jail). From everyday hearing, it was clear that he (Justice Sodhi) had made up his mind," he told an apex court bench comprising Justices P Sathasivam and Swatanter Kumar.
The prosecution had alleged that Lall was shot dead by Manu Sharma at the Tamarind Court Cafe restaurant owned by socialite Bina Ramani at Qutub Colonade in South Delhi on the intervening night of April 29-30, 1999, where she had hosted a party for her Canadian husband George Mailhot.
Jethmalani said that before the hearing of the appeal, a national daily came out with 'negative' publicity, publishing the accounts of some witnesses and even went to the extent of suggesting that "I have something to do with Justice Sodhi".
The senior advocate said that disturbed over such scurrilous attack, he wanted the bench to recuse itself from hearing the appeal, but the judges refused.
Criticising the high court judgment, Jethmalani said witnesses like Bina Ramani, who were never considered as eye witness by the prosecution, was relied on as an eye witness by Justice Sodhi. The senior advocate contended that though the ballistic report from government's forensic laboratory was in favour of the accused, which formed the basis of his acquittal, it was not relied on by the high court. The prosecution had made the case that out of the two bullets fired from the point 22 pistol, one hit the ceiling and another got embedded into the brain of the victim.
However, ballistic reports pointed out that the bullets were fired from different weapons, he said, claiming that the two cartridges recovered from the scene of the crime were foreign made while Sharma had purchased Indian made bullets.
He claimed the site plan of the offence was also altered by the prosecution to suit its theory. Jethmalani said the trial court had acquitted Sharma and others as all the key witnesses, including the eye witnesses, had turned hostile.
He said model-turned-actor Shyan Munshi, who was working as a bartender at the party along with Jessica on the day of the incident, had not supported the prosecution theory. Even Bina Ramani had, in her statement during the trial, said she was not sure whether Sharma was the same person whom she had seen walking out after the incident.
Jethmalani alleged the entire theory was concocted by the prosecution to implicate Sharma in the case and this was proved from the statement of other witnesses including that of Ramani's daughter Malini, who had changed her statement.
He said the first message to the police about the offence was given by fashion designer Rohit Bal, who was present at the party, but the story presented by the police was totally different. He claimed that liqour had been served illegally after midnight at the party.
The trial court verdict acquitting Sharma on February 21, 2006, was set aside by the high court on December 18, 2008. However, the high court had held guilty two other accused in the case, Vikas Yadav and Amarjeet Singh Gill, for destruction of evidence. They have also challenged their conviction and four-year sentence.