Pandher, Koli held guilty

Pandher had earlier been given a clean chit by the Central Bureau of Investigation; after Thursday's verdict, families of victims say there is fresh hope

In a verdict that left the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) red-faced, Special Judge Rama Jain on Thursday convicted businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surinder Koli for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar — the first among the 19 cases registered in the Nithari serial killings.

The CBI had earlier given a clean chit to Pandher in all its chargesheets.

In a packed courtroom on Thursday, Justice Jain pronounced the verdict in hardly two minutes after taking her seat, bringing hope to Haldar's parents. Both convicts were then whisked away to a high-security cell.

The court is scheduled to pronounce the quantum of sentence on Friday.

Koli was found guilty of kidnapping, rape and murder and other offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) punishable with life imprisonment or death. Pandher was convicted of the same offences together with criminal conspiracy (Section 120B) and destruction of evidence, under the IPC, Senior Public Prosecutor J P Sharma confirmed.

The day began in the court at 10.30 am with a pointed query from the judge to Pandher as to whether he had any knowledge of a confessional statement made by Koli — also present at the time — before a metropolitan magistrate. "Pandher said he knew nothing about the statement," said Anil Behl, a counsel on the CBI panel. The second question she asked was about Pandher's relationship with Payal, one of the victims. "Pandher had said he knew Payal," said Behl.

The verdict has now put a huge question mark on the CBI's early efforts to shift the entire blame to Koli for the crime committed on February 8, 2005. The investigating agency had maintained that Pandher was in Australia when Haldar went missing. Devraj Singh, one of Pandher's lawyers, said he will appeal against the judgment in High Court.

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