Life term for RK Sharma, three others

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New Delhi, Mar 24 (UNI) Finally drawing curtains on the nine-year-old case, a fast track court today handed out life terms to former Haryana IG of Police R K Sharma and three others convicted for their involvement in the murder of Indian Express journalist Shivani Bhatnagar.

The sentence was pronounced by Additional Sessions Judge R K Shastri, who had on March 18 convicted Sharma, along with Satya Prakash, Sri Bhagwan, son of a former Haryana police officer, and the hired killer, Pradeep Sharma for Shivani's murder under Section 302 (murder) and 120 (hatching criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

He, however, acquitted two other accused, Kallu and Ved Prakash for want of evidence.

Shivani was found murdered in her East Delhi apartment on January 23, 1999.

The court had deferred the sentencing till today after hearing the arguments from both sides on March 20. During the arguments on sentence, the prosecution had demanded death for R K Sharma and the hired killer, Pradeep Sharma, stating that the murder was ''pre-planned, calculated and cold-blooded''. Contesting this, Sharma's defence counsel had said it did not constitute rarest of the rare crimes. He also said they would go in for appeal in the High Court.

In its judgement, the court had relied heavily upon telephonic conversations between Shivani's killers, including Sharma. The deposition of Shivani's sister Sevanti and her friend, Sejal Shah also turned out to be vital pieces of evidence. The call records between Shivani and the former IGP also pointed to the intimacy they shared and also that he had started avoiding her, it noted.

Sharma's intention to kill Shivani was his fear that she would expose their relationship and ruin his social status.

Sharma, who had evaded arrest ever since his name cropped up in the media in connection with the murder, surrendered in an Ambala court in September 2002 only when non-bailable warrants and, later, property attachment proceedings were initiated against him.

Delhi Police had only a month earlier raided his residence at Panchkula but were unable to apprehend him. They got the first breakthrough in July 2002 with the arrest of Sri Bhagwan, whose father had worked under Sharma.

Sharma's wife Madhu had alleged involvement of BJP leader Pramod Mahajan in Shivani's murder. Mahajan had refuted the allegations and said he shared a purely professional relationship with Shivani.

Delhi Police too gave him a clean chit.

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