This case was a spine-tingling case in which 3 different people named Suraj, Sonia and Jacob were at the peak of flourishing their career. Suraj worked as a creative director. Sonia as a struggling actor and Jacob who was Sonia's boyfriend was a naval officer. Suraj helped Sonia to acquire roles in Film industry and Jacob was against it. Who killed Suraj? Sonia or Jacob?

The Inside Story
Few crimes have captured the national imagination quite as compellingly as the murder of 25-year-old Neeraj Grover on May 6, 2008. Bombay police say that the TV executive was lying naked in 27-year-old Kannada starlet Maria Susairaj’s bedroom when her fiance, Emile Jerome Matthew, walked in and stabbed Grover to death. Maria and Emile are then said to have hacked the corpse into approximately 300 pieces before putting the chopped limbs on fire.

This outline makes the case sound like fodder for a Ram Gopal Verma potboiler.

The calmness with which Maria and Emile had conducted themselves afterwards was startling.

Naval lieutenant Jerome Mathew told investigators that the reason he had murdered media executive Neeraj Grover was because he had found him nude in his girlfriend’s Malad home. Mathew and his girlfriend, Kannada actress Maria Susairaj, have been arrested for killing Grover and disposing of the body in the jungles of Manor after stuffing the chopped body parts into three bags.

Mathew said that when he had phoned Susairaj on May 6, she told him that Grover was helping her move into her new apartment at Dheeraj Solitaire building and would leave in a few hours. But when Mathew flew into Mumbai the next morning, he was shocked when Susairaj opened the door in a skimpy outfit. Mathew walked straight into her bedroom and found Grover in the nude.

Mathew was consumed with jealousy and rage as he realised what was happening behind his back. He headed straight to the kitchen and returned with a knife. The two men had a scuffle and Mathew eventually overpowered Grover, stabbing him several times.

Maria Monica Susairaj, had told him that she had not slept with Grover willingly. The couple then had consensual sex twice in the same flat, even as the body lay in a pool of blood, refuting claims that Mathew had raped her after the murder.
Mathew had never seen nor spoken to Grover before that fatal run in.

Matthew was taught techniques of man-to-man combat and how to use a dagger as part of his naval training. He put his skills to use to overpower Grover.

Susairaj used her credit card to shop for a knife and three bags from a local mall, since she had run out of cash. Matthew then used this new knife to chop Grover’s body to pieces and stuff it into the three bags.

Grover had a stable career and a good life. There seemed a low probability of his going missing just like that,’’ Maria said. Grover’s parents, who came down from UP to look for their missing son, met Maria on May 9. Barely three days later, Susairaj herself came to meet Maria with her brother and three of Grover’s friends.

She requested the police to look into the case personally. But the police told her upfront that she was my ‘suspect number 1’. She was taken aback at that time. But after her arrest, she admitted to her role in the crime.

Maria added that Mathew had a good academic background—he had scored 90% marks in his SSC and HSC. He had also won a gold medal in swimming at the university level. He has been stripped of his medals and uniform by the navy.

Maria is described by her friends as “wilful, ambitious, sexually manipulative, and ultimately a figure of tragedy”.

The value attached to money and fame, and the sense of entitlement many of the young feel without necessarily the talent, all this together becomes a lethal combination.

Maria Susairaj still continues to make headlines. In May this year, TV audiences were shocked to hear she had undergone treatment for her acne. Maria’s continuing ability to make news is perhaps best explained by the fact that murder of Neeraj has proved an apt reflection of changing morals in fast-changing times. We are increasingly living in a let-it-all-hang-out culture…even violence is a form of exhibitionism.

Now in July 2011, she has been released after the court convicted her for a three year term and Emile to ten years imprisonment. Maria had spent this time in prison already and thus has been released.

Maria had confessed to her crime in the court. Kanpur’s Neeraj father is distressed by the court verdict. However, the court took a lenient position by stating that it was natural on Emile’s part to lose control after seeing his fiancee in a compromising position with another man, Neeraj.

Maria is now being offered roles in movies, starting with Ram Gopal Verma. Some political forces, led by Shiv Sena, have said that they will not permit Maria to shoot in Maharashtra and to show her films in the cinemas in the state.

It looked like an open-and-shut case. Both Emile and Maria were put behind bars and their bail applications rejected.

Now, three years on, people are even more shocked to see Maria walk free. Apparently, her only crime was “destruction of evidence” for which she’s already served the maximum sentence of three years. No life term or death penalty for Emile either—he got 10 years, of which again three are already over. The judge ruled it was a crime of passion and not premeditated murder.

Friends of Neeraj are aghast. “Aren’t all murders crimes of passion? Then why not let all murderers go free,” asks documentary filmmaker Ashok Pandit, who was present at Maria’s press conference (organised so that she could stress the fact that she was innocent) with a group of friends to protest against the verdict.

Neeraj’s other friends like Chetan Morada are also dismayed. “This is not a case of temporary insanity. Maria called Neeraj over and then called Jerome. How do you let your fiance into the house when you have another man sleeping in your bedroom? Would anyone do it unless something was planned? We will be appealing in the high court,” he says.

A criminal lawyer who has promised Neeraj’s parents legal help when they appeal, makes a similar point: “In such cases, it matters how evidence is presented. The outcry over the miscarriage of justice is because Maria seems to have encouraged Jerome by calling him over to her house. Also the subsequent events—the way Maria coolly went to buy the knife used to hack Neeraj, and how, according to Maria’s confession, they made love next to the corpse. It shows a certain criminality.”

Indira Jaising, well-known lawyer and rights activist, also points to the brutal way in which the body was disposed of that could have aided the prosecution’s cause. “Maria is guilty of conspiracy because there was a meeting of minds. She agreed with the murder because she took steps to get rid of the evidence. That shows that she was complicit with the crime. Whether or not she actually killed the victim or hacked up the body comes later,” she says.

There is support pouring in for Neeraj’s father Amarnath Grover and he is hopeful that the HC will give his son justice. “The law is so delicate that everything is open to interpretation. But given the crime committed, we are wondering at the judgement,” he says.

Neeraj’s family and friends, quite predictably, feel that the murderers got off scot-free.

Others closely associated with the case, like Meenal Baghel, editor of Mumbai Mirror, who has followed the case in detail since it first broke and has written a book on it, Death in Mumbai, feels the judgement has to be looked at dispassionately. She points out that both Emile and Maria have been convicted once. “Had there been an acquittal, I would call it a travesty of justice but at present people are simply enraged by the quantum of punishment handed out.” Baghel has spent a lot of time with Maria and Jerome and their families. What sort of people are Maria and her fiance? “They were bright, middle-class people who were very ambitious like any other young people in a metro. They were not criminals,” she says. But they got rid of the evidence, like washing Maria’s room with detergent and acid to remove any tell-tale signs after killing Grover, in such a calm and calculated manner? “A strong survival instinct kicked in, which is why they disposed of the body and the evidence in the way they did,” is her answer.

The line is undoubtedly fine between Section 304, which is culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and Section 302 (Part I) that deals with premeditated murder. “In crimes like murder or rape, the mystery and brutality is highlighted by the media. As a result, there is an expectation that the harshest possible punishment be meted out. But in the courtroom, it is up to the prosecution to convince the judge using hard evidence,” says criminal lawyer Amit Desai. On the judgement itself, Indira Jaising feels the judge took “a stereotypical view that a man would not be able to stand his woman sleeping with another man and would therefore be driven to murder and also of casting Maria in the light of the eternal temptress. Holding such notions is simply archaic”.

The police, meanwhile, claim they did a thorough job. According to investigating officer Satish Raorane, all possible evidence was collected and there was nothing more that “science or investigation” could have done to prove the case. In addition, there were several strong witnesses, like Emile’s friend and roommate Lt Vasanth Kumar, who deposed that the former was upset and angry when he boarded the flight for Mumbai. And that Maria had called Neeraj over to her flat—supposedly to “help her with shifting”. Phone records also show that Emile called Neeraj and also that he knew he was with Maria that evening. Raorane believes this shows premeditation and Maria’s motive for arranging the murder. “She was annoyed and suspicious because she felt Neeraj was fooling her by not getting her an acting job despite sleeping with her,” he claims.

Public prosecutor R.V. Kini says his side presented 48 witnesses—from the watchmen who saw Emile and Maria load the car with two bags to the petrol pump attendant who sold loose petrol to Emile to the roadside seller who sold Emile the lighter used to set the corpse on fire. According to him, the prosecution’s case did not rely on Maria’s confession at all and was building a case based on the evidence to show premeditated murder. Well, all this will again come up for hearing as the state and Neeraj’s father knock at the high court’s doors. Will the prosecution be able to convince another judge that his murder was premeditated?

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