Mumbai: Kannada actress Maria Susairaj has been sentenced to a maximum three years' imprisonment for destroying evidence in the Neeraj Grover case. A sentence she has already served during trial. So, after all the paperwork and formalities are completed, she will be released tomorrow morning. Her former fiance, Emile Jerome Mathew, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing TV executive Neeraj Grover in May 2008. And three years for destroying evidence. (Read: Who was Neeraj Grover?)
Neeraj Grover's family is stunned. The promising, young TV executive was killed at Maria Susairaj's Mumbai suburb flat on May 7, 2008, by Jerome. Maria and Jerome have been found guilty of destroying evidence - Neeraj's body was cut in pieces with a knife purchased for the purpose, transported to another suburb in gunny bags, where the corpse was set on fire. Maria and Jerome were arrested soon after. (Pics - Neeraj Grover verdict: Maria Susairaj not guilty of murder)
The judge accepted yesterday that Mr Mathew had killed Neeraj in a fit of jealousy after finding him at Ms Susairaj's flat. But it was not pre-planned murder, and so Mr Mathew was indicted for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and for destroying evidence. Jerome's two sentences will run concurrently - he has already spent three years in prison and will need to be in jail for another seven years.
Ms Susairaj, the court said, had been proven guilty of destruction of evidence. The court has also fined Maria and Jerome Rs 50,000, to be paid to the Grover family. The judgment noted that nothing could compensate for the loss that Neeraj's parents had suffered and that had been taken into consideration.
An acquittal, not sentence: Neeraj's father
Neeraj's grieving father, Amarnath Grover, described the sentence as an acquittal for Maria. "Why were Jerome and Maria given different sentences, when both were there when Neeraj was killed and his body brutally disposed of," he asked. (Watch - Neeraj's father: No sentence, it's acquittal)
Broken, the elderly man said he did not have the energy or resources to take his fight further but hoped that the state would take the case to a higher court. The public prosecutor has indicated that the state shall plead in a higher court.
Today, the prosecution had sought a life sentence for Mr Mathew. It contended that the former Navy officer didn't need to kill Neeraj; that having had commando training, he could have easily overpowered Neeraj. It also pointed to the brutal manner the body was disposed of. As a naval officer, Jerome was supposed to defend the country, but he committed this crime, the prosecution pleaded.
"Yes, he joined the defence services to serve the nation and he still wanted to do so," said Mr Mathew's lawyer, pleading for a lenient sentence. The lawyer said maximum quantum of sentence was for habitual offenders, which, he said, Mr Mathew was not. The former Navy officer, the lawyer said, had "lost his balance of mind" when the incident happened.
Maria's lawyer had asked the court to consider that she was young and unmarried. He pleaded with the court to consider releasing her since she had already served her sentence.
The verdict of the sessions court, that has been hearing this sensational case for over two years now, has come as a huge setback to the police and prosecution.
"Even I am shocked by the verdict. Certainly we will go into an appeal," said RV Kini, Public Prosecutor.
The judge said, "The killing took place on the spur of the moment. Obviously any man who finds his fiancé with another man will get upset and lose control."(Read: Neeraj Grover verdict - Judges' observation)
What seemed to have helped Mr Mathew and Ms Susairaj is that the prosecution was able to provide only circumstantial evidence and could not conclusively prove that the couple had conspired to kill Mr Grover. It was also unable to establish a motive for murder for Ms Susairaj.