All 21 convicts, including 13 policemen were on Friday awarded life imprisonment by a court in Mumbai in the 2006 fake encounter killing of Ram Narayan Gupta alias Lakkhan Bhaiya, an alleged aide of fugitive gangster Chhota Rajan.
Former senior inspector Pradeep Suryavanshi (who had led the encounter team), Tanaji Desai and Dilip Palande were among those sentenced to life by the sessions court.
While Suryavanshi, Desai and Palande were convicted for murder in the case, dismissed police officer and 'encounter specialist' Pradeep Sharma, who is credited with gunning down over 100 criminals, was acquitted for lack of evidence and prosecution's failure to prove its case, last Friday.
Over 110 prosecution witnesses and two defence witnesses had deposed during the trial.
On Monday, the prosecution had sought death penalty for all policemen (including Suryavanshi) and two others who were not cops --Shalendra Pandey and Akhil Khan -- arguing that they had played an active role in killing. But the defence had argued that convictions were based only on circumstantial evidence, so capital punishment should be avoided. Also, families of the accused should be kept in mind.
On November 11, 2006, a police team picked up Ram Narayan Gupta alias Lakkhan Bhaiya, from neighbouring Vashi on the suspicion that he was a member of Rajan gang, along with his friend Anil Bheda, and killed Gupta in a "fake" encounter near Nana Nani Park in suburban Versova in Western Mumbai on the same evening.
According to prosecution, Bheda was initially detained at D N Nagar police station in Versova and was later shifted to Kolhapur. He was subsequently brought back to Mumbai and was detained for about a month.
Soon thereafter, Ram Narayan's brother, advocate Ramprasad Gupta, moved the Bombay High Court, alleging police had in fact murdered his brother. In February 2008, the High Court ordered a magisterial inquiry which concluded that it was a "cold-blooded" murder.
In September 2009, HC constituted a Special InvestigationTeam to probe the case.
Pradeep Sharma had been arrested by SIT on January 8, 2010 along with 21 others for involvement in the fake encounter. According to investigators, Gupta was killed at the instance of Navi Mumbai-based builder Janardhan Bange alias Janya Sheth, who had got in touch with Sharma to have Gupta killed.
On March 12, 2011, Bheda, the sole eye-witness, went missing from his house in Navi Mumbai; he was supposed to depose in court on March 18.
His wife filed a habeas corpus petition, alleging that her husband had been abducted and could have been murdered.
Two months later, in June 2011, Navi Mumbai police found a decomposed body and DNA tests confirmed that it was Bheda's.