Image: Manu Sharma
Mustafa Quraishi  /  AP
Manu Sharma, center, leaves the Delhi High Court after being sentenced for the 1999 murder of former model Jessica Lall in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday.
updated 12/20/2006 11:57:18 AM ET 2006-12-20T16:57:18

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sentenced a wealthy Indian politician’s son to life in prison for the 1999 killing of a former model.

Manu Sharma, 31, was convicted of shooting Jessica Lall after she refused to serve him a drink at an upscale New Delhi bar because it was closing time. The court also ordered Sharma to pay a fine of $1,100.

The case was seen as a test of the Indian court system’s willingness to hold accountable powerful people accused of criminal offenses.

Lall, who was a model and a celebrity, was serving drinks for one evening at a party at the bar.

“There’s a certain amount of closure now ... for all these seven and a half years we’ve all been waiting and it’s finally done,” the victim’s sister, Sabrina Lall, said outside the courtroom.

“It needed a lot of hard work because so many witnesses turned hostile but we were successful in presenting our case to the court,” said Mukta Gupta, the top lawyer for the prosecution. “The truth is out and we’ve done our duty.”

Sharma can appeal to the Supreme Court.

The trial made headlines after a lower court acquitted Sharma earlier this year. Dozens of people witnessed the killing, but most later recanted their testimony as the case moved through the courts.

The earlier acquittal angered New Delhi’s citizens, who held street protests for several days, forcing authorities to reopen the investigation.

Son of influential politician
Sharma is the son of Venod Sharma, an influential politician and former governing Congress party minister in northern Haryana state. He has business interests in sugar mills.

The High Court’s guilty verdict came on Monday. It also found Sharma’s friends Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill guilty of destroying evidence and helping Sharma escape.

On Wednesday, the court sentenced both men to four years in prison.

India’s courts are usually slow and cases can take decades to resolve, bribery is often openly demanded and the powerful seldom face prosecution.

In recent months, however, the courts have convicted several powerful people accused of crimes, including a Cabinet minister who was sentenced to life imprisonment earlier this month.

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