Crime of passion

Mumbai, July 01: His last words were “Maria, Maria!” a call for help to another man’s lover, according to a statement the woman would make later. The cry was drowned in minutes as he was stabbed, allegedly by the other man, with what must have been a “rather blunt kitchen knife”.

Once Neeraj Grover was dead, Emil Jerome Mathew slapped his girlfriend Maria Susairaj several times and then, according to her statement, raped her twice.

It was a crime of passion that would be recounted several times in the courtroom and on the news.

THE KILLING

On the night of May 6, 2008, Grover, an executive in a TV production company, dropped in at Susairaj’s newly rented, one-room flat at Dheeraj Solitaire, a lavish building in Malad, Mumbai. She needed help moving in. He decided to spend the night there.

Susairaj and Grover are said to have been “seeing each other” after he had promised her a role in Mahabharat, a TV serial. His friends would later tell the Crime Branch that he was in love with her. Susairaj’s confession would put it as “purely one-sided”.

The same night, Susairaj got a call from Mathew, her boyfriend from her schooldays. Mathew, a naval officer in Kochi, could hear laughter and Grover asking Susairaj jokingly, “Is that your boyfriend?”

But for that call, Mathew might have gone on with a bright career. Now, he was furious. He got a friend to drive him 45 km to the airport for a 3.45 am flight to Mumbai. He told his friend his girlfriend was upset and needed him, but not that they had quarreled when she refused to throw Grover out of her house, or that she had switched her cell off.

At the other end, Susairaj and Grover went to sleep at 4 am; the prosecution says this was after they had had sex. When Mathew arrived, he found Grover, allegedly naked, in Susairaj’s bedroom. According to her confession, he slashed the screaming Grover’s throat, stabbed him in the chest.

THE COVER-UP

Susairaj “blindly listened to Emile”, who now cut a threatening figure, knife in hand. According to her confession, which the court relied on, “I was not in that frame of mind, but out of fear, I agreed to his demands.” She said he raped her twice.

Around noon the next day, Susairaj went to Hypercity Shopping Mall and bought a bread knife, an air-freshener, new drapes to replace the bloodstained ones, and two large duffel bags. Mathew had ordered her back with the items in 40 minutes, threatening suicide otherwise, she would say later: she loved him and did as told.

The body was dragged into the bathroom and, with the knife, chopped into tiny pieces. Susairaj placed each piece carefully in one or the other of the bags, a job that took over three hours, she would say. They packed even their bloodstained clothes into the bags. They borrowed a choreographer friend’s Hyundai Santro and drove to an isolated spot in Manor, Thane, doused the bags in petrol and burned them.

There were no eyewitnesses.

Susairaj was back home at 9.30 pm. Grover’s friends, who were going to file a missing complaint, called her to the police station. She went, and handed Grover’s mobile to his parents, telling them he had left it at her flat and then gone.

She returned and bathed at 11.30 pm, in the same bathroom where Grover had been killed. Jerome was watching television. They ate at a restaurant where they decided what they should say if questioned. She should not be anxious, he told her.

THE PROBE

On May 8, while the flat was getting repainted, Susairaj was called to the Malad police station. Once she was back home, she and Jerome watched a movie and talked things over. A Crime Branch team arrived at 6.30 pm, after which Mathew too was called for questioning.

On May 9, Mathew flew back to his base. The police collected evidence, CCTV images of Susairaj shopping, noting her choice of items. Later, a forensics team would find bloodstains on the switchboard, tiles, pillows, the bathroom, and on the carpet of the car’s boot.

On May 12, she met then Crime Branch chief Rakesh Maria. Minutes later, he told her his prime suspect was sitting right across the table. She broke down.

TWISTS & TURNS

Three years ago, the prosecution had challenged the defence, claiming that the murder was “cold- blooded” and that Susairaj and Jerome, if convicted, would face the death sentence.

On Thursday, however, the court dismissed the prosecution’s basic contentions, finding Susairaj guilty not of the killing but of destroying evidence, and Jerome of killing on the spur of the moment. The prosecution said Susairaj’s confessional statement had saved both.

The trial has seen several twists, from both pleading innocence to each blaming the other. The hearings, initially at intervals, took place almost day to day for the past eight months. The prosecution brought 44 witnesses and the defence 20, including Jerome’s fellow prisoner Manish Thakur, also a naval officer accused of killing his girlfriend.

By examining Thakur, the defence sought to prove the identification parade for Jerome was not carried out as per the rulebook. Like Thakur, Jerome too grew close to underworld don Abu Salem in Taloja jail.

At one time, the prosecution complained to the court about Jerome’s arrogance. Susairaj, meanwhile, was involved in a scuffle with a South African prisoner.

At another point, two lawyers representing Susairaj and Jerome had to leave the case after they were charged with intimidating one of the witnesses. They were replaced.

Among the witnesses, the court relied mainly on the apartment guard, the friend who had lent the car that was used to dispose of the body, a neighbour who had seen Grover and Maria together, and another neighbour who had seen Jerome enter the building.

With no eyewitnesses and with only circumstantial evidence, the court relied on the confessional statement that Maria had given to a magistrate soon after her arrest.

Jerome has been held guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder,and Susairaj (along with Jerome) of destruction of evidence. Susairaj has already spent three years in jail and her lawyers expect her to be freed soon.

Courtesy: IE