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45 days on, no one knows who shot Gauri Lankesh

While a systematic, professional investigation is being carried out by the Karnataka SIT, with as many as 121 policemen at its disposal, the element of luck that enables the convergence of multiple angles of investigation at a common `Eureka' point still eludes the Gauri Lankesh murder investigation.

Written by Johnson T A |
Updated: October 22, 2017 8:07:31 am
gauri lankesh, Gauri lankesh murder, illegal gun racket bangalore, SIT, special investigation team, karnataka police, gauri lankesh killing, indian express, Gauri Lankesh (File Photo)

Over 45 days since the journalist activist Gauri Lankesh, 55, was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru, one thing is clear from the investigation that the killers were cunning operators who deployed elaborate measures to cover their tracks. The use of technology like mobile phones and the Internet in the course of a crime has in recent years made criminal investigations faster and easier for the police. In the absence of technology in the commission and execution of a crime the police often hit dead ends.

A Special Investigation Team of the Karnataka police that is probing the Gauri Lankesh murder case has been forced to pursue a classical form of investigation that is not dependent on technology but on carefully collected evidence and a process of double and triple verifications to find the killers. This is because the killers of Gauri Lankesh did not use cell phones and were seemingly aware of the proliferation of CCTV cameras in Bengaluru while planning and carrying out the crime – leaving investigators with partially visible faces behind full face helmets to work with.

Yet, the murder of Gauri Lankesh is not the perfect crime. A dedicated, skilled team of investigators are still peeling off the many layers of the mystery. One of the primary bits of evidence the Karnataka SIT found are the four bullets fired at the journalist from the 7.65 mm country made gun that killed her, and their empty cartridges.

The Karnataka police knows that every gun leaves a clear and distinguishable signature on the bullets and cartridges used in them. “The pin, the extractor, the ejector and the barrel of a gun leave distinctive marks on the bullet and its casings in the case of every gun. It is like a fingerprint of the gun,” says a senior police officer.

Examining bullets and cartridges for gun fingerprints has become a routine exercise in gun crimes in the state and has resulted in the solving of several cases.

In 2002, when H Nagappa a former Karnataka minister, kidnapped by the forest brigand Veerappan, was found shot in a forest by a single bullet fired from an AK-47 there were allegations that he had been killed by a special task force of the Karnataka police.

Experts at the Karnataka Forensic Science Laboratory studied 33 empty cartridges found at the site where Nagappa was killed in an effort to find the gun that killed him.

The forensic analysis of the signatures on the cartridges showed that they had been fired from four specific AK-47 weapons. The experts also matched the spent cartridges with cartridges fired from 120 AK-47s in the possession of the Karnataka STF in an effort to find out if the STF had really killed Nagappa. The forensic analysis in the end ruled out the involvement of guns in the possession of the Karnataka STF in his killing.

Soon after the Gauri Lankesh murder the first thing that investigators did was to retrieve the four bullets and their four casings and to subject them to microscopic examination.

With Gauri’s murder bearing a close resemblance to the August 30, 2015 murder of the Kannada scholar and rationalist M M Kalburgi, 77, in Dharwad the SIT has also sought to compare the bullets and cartridges from that case with those in the Gauri Lankesh case.

To their pleasant surprise investigators found that the bullets and cartridges in the two cases were in all probability fired from the same gun. This finding hasopened up the investigation in a major way because the Karnataka CID police in 2015, in the course of the probe of the Kalburgi murder, had examined bullets and cartridges fired to kill two rationalists in Maharashtra and had found that the gun used to kill Kalburgi was one of two guns used to shoot the leftist thinker Govind Pansare, 81, and his wife Uma Pansare, in Pune on February 16, 2015. The CID police also found that the second gun used in the Pansare shooting was also probably the weapon that killed the rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, in Kohlapur on August 20, 2013.

Not wanting to rely on investigations in Maharashtra – which has indicated the role of rogue members of the right wing outfit the ‘Sanatan Sanstha’ and its affiliate the ‘Hindu Janajagruti Samiti’ in the murders of Dabholkar and Pansare – the SIT has pursued an independent probe in the Gauri murder case while constantly keeping a note of the trajectory that investigations have taken in Maharashtra.

The SIT has extensively mapped the movements of the killers of Gauri Lankesh using CCTV footage from the journalist’s own residence and other cameras located near her home to obtain a fair idea of their pre-crime positions. Investigators have found people who have claimed to have seen suspects near the victim’s home a week prior to the murder.

The SIT has also been able to obtain images of the suspects from descriptions provided by people and by enhancing images from CCTV footage. Efforts are also on to find the owners of motorcycles used to plan and execute the crime, the sources of supply of guns and ammunition to the killers, and the people who may have harboured the killers in Bengaluru.

From the physical and facial impressions obtained from the descriptions provided by people and the CCTV footage of the suspects the SIT has got a rough idea of who the probable suspects could be.

While a systematic, professional investigation is being carried out by the SIT – which has as many as 121 policemen at its disposal – the element of luck that enables the convergence of multiple angles of investigation at a common `Eureka’ point still eludes the Gauri Lankesh murder investigation.

Johnson T A works with the Indian Express in Bengaluru.

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