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Indian politician's son guilty of murder

By Jerome Taylor

In a sensational climax to one of India's most notorious murder cases, the High Court in Delhi has found the son of a Indian politician guilty of shooting dead a waitress in a high society bar after she refused to serve him a drink after closing time.

Manu Sharma, whose father is a wealthy member of the government's ruling Congress coalition, was found guilty in Delhi High Court after more than seven years of judicial wrangling in a case that many felt showed how India's legal system was weighted in favour of the rich.

Jessica Lall, 34, a part-time model, was tending the bar at an exclusive party in Delhi. She was shotin front of host of socialites, bureaucrats and even police officials in 1999 because she would not serve Sharma. According to the prosecution, Sharma took out a pistol and said "I will do it my way," before shooting once in the air and then firing a single bullet at Ms Lall.

But the prosecution's case fell apart during the first trial when a key witness, the budding actor Shayan Munshi, retracted a statement linking Sharma to the shooting.

That prompted text message and e-mail campaigns for the case to be reopened, with one television news station delivering a petition to the president signed by more than 200,000 people. The city's police chief ordered an inquiry in March into claims of collusion between his officers and the accused.

A week later, senior policemen appealed against the acquittal at Delhi's High Court. A former Delhi police officer, Maxwell Pereira, said the order showed the road to justice for many others. "The voice of lesser people has been heard, above all the political influences, all the nexus of various players," he said.

Sharma is the son of Venod Sharma, a former federal minister from the northern state of Haryana. The decision came as India's courts seemed to be flexing muscles with a series of verdicts against high-profile defendants in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the coal minister, Shibu Soren, was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a former aide. The opposition politician and former international cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu was sentenced to three years in jail for a road-rage killing which happened 18 years ago.

And in another retrial accelerated because of public pressure, the lawyer son of a former police officer was sentenced to death in October for the 1996 rape and murder of Priyadarshini Mattoo, a law student, seven years after he was acquitted.

Jessica's sister, Sabrina, who led the campaign to charge Sharma, said: " We are missing our family at the moment ­ mom, dad and Jessica included, and knowing that wherever they are, they are finally at peace. " Jessica's mother died soon after Sharma was given bail at the start of the trial and her father died this year.

The sentence will be announced tomorrow.

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