Delhi government’s sentence review board had recommended Sharma’s early release on May 11. As per procedure, the recommendation of the seven-member board went to the LG for his final clearance. The LG’s office said that Baijal had concurred with the recommendations of the review panel on May 21 to release 19 prisoners, including Sharma.
Sharma walked out of jail on Monday afternoon, but Sharma had been living as almost a free man for over two years. Lodged in the open jail given his record of good conduct during imprisonment, he spent days outside the walls of Tihar, worked with his NGO, and returned to his cell at night.
According to Tihar sources, Sharma was hardly excited when he stepped out of jail for the last time at around 2.30pm on Monday. He had been asked to pack his belonging on Sunday after the orders for his release arrived, but he didn’t have much to tote.
Tihar officials have mostly positive comments about Sharma’s incarceration. While none agreed to be quoted, many staffers narrated tales of his helping prison officials on numerous occasions, especially after he had spent a few years in jail.
Sharma was often the focus of public scrutiny for his frequent paroles — at least seven since 2009 — and some of his activities when outside jail, including a pub brawl with a police officer’s son. There were other allegations too, such as he received special facilities from jail officials and regularly managed to visit a hotel in Janakpuri.
In December 2016, Sharma was granted parole till January 12, 2017 to sit for his LLB examination. The parole was extended a day before expiry to enable him to get married.
The Jessica Lal murder case is one of India’s most highprofile cases. On April 29, 1999, Sharma was at Tamarind Court in Qutub Colonnade with his friends Vikas Yadav, son of politician D P Yadav, and Amardeep Singh Gill. They had arrived at the upscale lounge drunk at a time Lall was tending the bar.
As the party wound up, Sharma wanted another drink but was turned down by Lall. Incensed, he threatened her. Moments later, Sharma fired two shots from his pistol, one of which hit Lall on her forehead.
After a full-fledged investigation was launched, the absconding Sharma finally surrendered in court in Chandigarh. There was more drama when the case began. Actor, model and star witness Shayan Munshi, who had been with Lall at the club, turned hostile, claiming he hadn’t seen Sharma shooting Lall and hadn’t written the police complaint because he did not know Hindi. He was later booked for perjury when the cops found Munshi had studied Hindi in a school in Kolkata and used to read film scripts in Hindi.
The lower court acquitted Sharma amid confusion created by the defence on the use of two guns in the crime. TOI’s front-page headline when it reported the acquittal — No One Killed Jessica — later became the title of a movie on the incident. Police appealed in Delhi high court, which convicted Sharma in 2006. Sharma’s appeal in the SC ended with it upholding the conviction in 2010.
In November 2017, Sharma was sent to the open jail.
According to prison guidelines, life convicts are eligible for release after serving 14 years of actual imprisonment on the discretion of the SRB, which considers several factors, including the prisoner’s conduct during confinement, and circumstances in which the crime was committed, his conduct during parole and furlough and prospects of post-release rehabilitation.