For over a year, a young man stalks a young woman called Priyadarshini Mattoo. He calls her home and makes threats. He stops her car and shouts at her. The police give her protection, but he doesn't stop. A neighbour notices him at the entrance to her flat one day; shortly after that, she is murdered.
By "murdered", I really mean that she is assaulted, raped and strangled to death. She has 19 injuries on her body.
The police arrest and charge the young man, Santosh Singh, with the murder.
The trial ends nearly four years later. In the judgement, the Additional Sessions judge comments on various attempts to weaken the case against Singh. He faults the CBI for not following "official procedure"; for concealing evidence including a fingerprint report; for even fabricating documents that supported the man's case. He observes about the police: "[they] attempted to assist the accused during investigation and also during trial ... [all this suggests] that the rule of law is not meant for those who enforce the law or for their near relatives."
The young man, you see, is the son of a powerful man: a senior police officer who was then Inspector-General of Police, Pondicherry.
The judgement concludes: "Though I know [the accused] is the man who committed the crime, I acquit him, giving him the benefit of the doubt."
Those words always send a shiver down my spine. What must it be for a judge to be both convinced of an accused's guilt, and forced to let him off because the case against him has been so seriously undermined?
Was the judge in the recent Jessica Lal judgement caught in a similar bind?After all, the accused, Manu Sharma, is also the son of a powerful man: a politician who is a minister in the Haryana Government. Was there similar subversion there too?
Well, yes, but in another way. Three prosecution witnesses turned hostile. Two refused to identify Sharma, another claimed he was not even in Delhi at the time of the murder. I don't know what the judge observed in his judgement, but faced with this crumbling away of the prosecution's case, he must have had no choice but to let Sharma off.
And so we have Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal. Young women murdered, but their murderers roam free.