Jessica Lal killer Manu Sharma, serving a life term in one of the most high-profile crimes in the country, has been freed from prison for "satisfactory jail conduct". He was released along with 18 other prisoners from Delhi's Tihar Jail on Monday.
Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal signed off on the decision after a recommendation by the Delhi Sentence Review Board, which is a Delhi Government department. The board unanimously recommended freeing Manu Sharma at a meeting last month chaired by Delhi Home Minister Satyendar Jain.
The 43-year-old, who has spent around 17 years in prison, had been out on parole as part of measures taken by prisons across the country to prevent crowding in the coronavirus crisis.
In November, his lawyer had approached the Delhi high court and said despite a record of good conduct in prison, the board had rejected his release four times.
The son of former union minister Venod Sharma, Manu Sharma was convicted in 2006 for shooting model Jessica Lal after she refused to serve him a drink on April 30, 1999, at a party in Tamarind Court restaurant in Delhi owned by socialite Bina Ramani.
A trial court acquitted him of murder but the High Court, which took up the case amid nationwide outrage and protests, reversed the decision and sentenced him to a life term. The Supreme Court confirmed the sentence in 2010.
In the past two years, Manu Sharma had been in an open jail on account of "good conduct"; he was allowed to leave the prison for work at 8 am and return at 6pm. Eight years ago, Manu Sharma aka Sidharth Vashishta also started an eponymous non-profit for the rehabilitation of prisoners.
In 2018, Jessica Lal's younger sister Sabrina Lal had said she forgave Manu Sharma and would not object if he were freed. "I truly believe he has been doing good work in jail...it's a load off my chest and I feel at peace with myself," Sabrina Lal had told NDTV. "His conviction was closure for me," she had said.
The sensational crime inspired a film and came to symbolize the deep flaws in the system that allowed those with money and influence to misuse the law and get away with murder.