A preliminary forensic analysis of bullets and cartridges found at the site of the September 5 shooting of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh and those recovered from the killing of Kannada research scholar M M Kalburgi two years ago has revealed that the same 7.65-mm countrymade pistol was used for the two killings.
This finding has been communicated to the Special Investigation Team that is probing the murder of the 55-year-old journalist and activist, sources involved with the two separate investigations have told The Indian Express.
On September 12, The Indian Express had reported that investigations had found clues that suggested a link between the two murders.
Lankesh was shot dead at her residence in west Bengaluru by an unidentified assailant with a 7.65-mm countrymade pistol around 8 pm while she was opening the gates to her home to park her car after returning from work. Kalburgi was killed at his home in the north Karnataka town of Dharwad at around 8.40 am on August 30, 2015 by an unidentified gunman who rang his doorbell.
Police recovered the three bullets that pierced Lankesh’s heart and lungs before exiting her body and a bullet that missed her along with the four empty cartridges. While the four cartridges were found at the murder site shortly after the killing, the fatal bullets were found by a search of the crime scene with metal detectors.
Investigators decided to compare the “ballistic signature” on the bullets and cartridges in the Lankesh case with that of bullets and cartridges in the Kalburgi case. The analysis has reported a match suggesting that one common gun was used in the two killings, sources said. This also suggests that one common outfit or group is behind the two killings, an official said.
Guns are believed to leave unique markings on cartridges and bullets — when the cartridge is struck by the firing pin and the bullet travels through the barrel — on the lines of fingerprints although there are sceptics who caution against using this matching test for crude countrymade weapons.
The forensic finding from the comparison of the ballistic evidence from the Lankesh and Kalburgi cases when juxtaposed with the forensic analysis of the shooting down of Maharashtra rationalist Govind Pansare, 81, on February 16, 2015 in Kolhapur, suggests that the same gun has been used in three different killings over the last 30 months.
Following the murder of Kalburgi and Pansare in 2015, the Karnataka CID had attempted to analyse the evidence in the two cases by comparing striations on the bullets and cartridges used in the two murders and had found a match.
Govind Pansare and his wife Uma Pansare were shot with five bullets from two 7.65-mm countrymade guns. Uma Pansare survived the shooting. The forensic analysis in the Pansare and Kalburgi case revealed that one of the two guns used in the Pansare case in Maharashtra was the same gun used to shoot down Kalburgi in Karnataka.
A further comparison of the ballistic evidence found in the Pansare case with that of evidence in the shooting of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, on August 20, 2013 in Pune revealed that the second gun used to shoot Pansare was the same gun that was used to kill Dabholkar.
In the 2013 killing of Dabholkar, the motorcycle borne assailant fired four bullets.
Though the investigation of the Kalburgi killing in Karnataka by the CID has not resulted in any headway in finding the killers, the CID has been co-ordinating with the CBI which is probing the Dabholkar murder and a Maharashtra SIT probing the Pansare murder.
The investigations in the Dabholkar and Pansare cases by the CBI and the Maharashtra SIT suggested the involvement of the radical right-wing outfit, Sanatan Sanstha, in the two killings.
On the basis of directions issued by the Bombay High Court on January 7, 2016, the Karnataka police shared information from its forensic findings in the Kalburgi case with the CBI and the Maharashtra SIT.
A co-ordination meeting was held by officers of the CBI, the SIT, Maharashtra and the CID, Karnataka on February 17, 2016, to discuss the investigation of the three seemingly linked murder cases. The CBI suggested verification of the ballistic findings of the Karnataka forensic lab through the Directorate of Forensic Services, at Scotland Yard, London.
Sources said Scotland Yard confirmed the forensic findings in the Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi cases but did not issue a report for lack of an agreement. The CBI then approached the Gujarat Forensic Science Lab to verify the findings of the Karnataka lab. The Gujarat FSL confirmed the ballistic findings linking the three cases, according to sources.
On January 20 this year, the Bombay High Court noted that CBI had not been provided a report by the Scotland Yard forensic lab on the findings made by the Karnataka lab in the murders of the rationalists but had accepted a report of the Gujarat FSL and allowed it to be used as evidence by the CBI in the Dabholkar murder case.
“The Scotland Yard Police have informed the CBI in writing that unless and until a Mutual Agreement is arrived at, and in the absence of the clearance from the UK Home Department, it would not be possible to examine the materials and render any definite and conclusive opinion,’’ the court noted. “At this stage, we must also note the fact that the report, now being available for the CBI (the report of the Director of Forensic Sciences, Gujarat), is likely to be placed on the record of the criminal case, and particularly, the Sessions case arising out of the murder of Dr Narendra Dabholkar.’’
Although activists of the Sanatan Sanstha have emerged as the primary suspects in the case, the Karnataka SIT is also pursuing investigations on other lines and on Wednesday questioned family members of Lankesh and some associates whom she had helped move out of the Naxal movement into the mainstream.