Tandoor Murder Case- Landmark Forensic Case

Tandoor Murder Case- Landmark Forensic Case

Author: Kkanika Sharma, A student at Army Institute of Law


The following article discusses the landmark case in forensic criminal investigative law, Sushil Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2014) 4 SCC 317, popularly known as the Tandoor Murder Case. The article goes in the depth of the background and facts surrounding the case. It discusses the law applied against the main convict, the evidence collected- both forensic and circumstantial, the discrepancies found in the evidence, and finally the judgment by the Apex Court. The article provides paramount importance to the processes of DNA profiling, ballistics and weapon investigation, post-mortem reports, as well as witness testimony. It also showcases the Court’s stance towards hostile witnesses in this case. In the end, the article highlights the Supreme Court’s proclivity towards the reformative approach in cases which involve a person who is capable of reform as opposed to its aversion to the retributive theory when it is not a rarest of the rare case.

Keywords: Tandoor Murder Case, Forensics, criminal investigation, DNA profiling, Ballistics, Post-mortem report, Reformative approach, murder, criminal conspiracy, disappearance of evidence.


The first time the use of forensics was made in the investigation of a criminal case in India was in the Tandoor Murder Case or Sushil Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2014) 4 SCC 317. In this chilling case which showcases the mental depravity and brutality of the accused, evidence found with the help of forensic investigation was pivotal to its outcome. DNA, ballistics, and post-mortem reports essentially helped in pinning down the murderer and bringing the deceased to justice in the end. The case went up to the Supreme Court after appeals against the trial court and the High Court (of Delhi)’s judgments which levelled the death penalty against the convict. The Supreme Court then commuted the punishment to a life sentence.


The convict, Sushil Sharma was a Congress leader at the time, specifically the President of the Delhi Youth Congress, while the deceased, Naina Sahni was the General Secretary of the Girls’ Wing of the DYC. The two were secretly married and used to live together. The marriage lasted three years, by the end of which it had become strained. The convict suspected the deceased of adultery with her colleague, Matloob Karim, and upon hearing one of her phone calls with whom he suspected to be Karim, he shot her thrice with his licensed revolver. Two bullets struck her head and neck, respectively, while the third one was lodged in the air conditioner. 

Immediately, the convict wrapped her up in a polythene bag and carried her corpse in the dickey of his Maruti car to the Bagia Barbeque restaurant owned by him where he tried to burn the corpse in a tandoor with the help of an employee of the restaurant, Keshav Kumar. The Police investigated the cause of the fire and discovering the dead body, arrested Keshav while the convict absconded. He was finally brought into custody by the Bangalore police who also recovered the murder weapon- the revolver, as well as its license.

Evidence Recovered

The police had recovered a lot of evidence, much of which was forensic in nature. They recorded Keshav’s confession at the trial court which stated that he had put the body in the tandoor upon the convict’s orders. Along with that, the bloodstained polythene was recovered, as well as dried blood and hair strands in the Maruti car, in addition to the car itself.

Other bloodstained articles such as cloth pieces, chatai, and a piece of carpet were confiscated. Empty bullet cartridges, a bullet, and an air pistol was found in the convict’s apartment, in addition to the revolver recovered from his person later.

The post-mortem reports established the bullet injuries in the neck and head as the cause of death, the burns were post-mortem.

Witness evidence included key witnesses such as the parents of the deceased who stated that the convict was married to their daughter. The neighbors were also key in establishing that the deceased was last seen in her flat with the convict on the night of the murder. Other testimonies included the parents’, the neighbors’, and the convict’s servant’s statements regarding quarrels over their inter-religious marriage which was not public, the extramarital relationship between Karim and the deceased which continued even after their marriage, despite the convict’s attempts to put a hold to it. 

Karim, the servant, and a neighbor also testified that the convict used to beat the deceased, and he also used to send a person to keep watch on her as he suspected her of infidelity. Police witnesses and employees of the restaurant testified as ocular evidence to his presence near the tandoor when Keshav was burning the body. The convict failed to provide a genuine alibi for it all. Thus, the chain of circumstances was held to be doubtless, and the convict’s guilt was definite and conclusive.

Law applied

  1. S. 302 and S. 120-B r/w S. 201 Indian Penal Code, 1860: These sections were applied against the convict and the co-accused, Keshav to establish murder of the deceased, criminal conspiracy of the two to dispose of the body, as well as the act of destroying the corpse which comes under the offense of destruction of evidence.

Discrepancies in prosecution’s case

There were certain discrepancies in prosecution’s case that were pointed out by the defending counsels, however, most of them were ruled to be irrelevant to the case’s merit. The fact that the convict was deeply in love with the deceased did not dilute his motive. The fact that Karim and the deceased might be involved in an extramarital affair did not make him an inimical witness as the court held that since he and the deceased were still meeting each other after her marriage to the convict, it was not understandable how he would benefit from falsely implicating the convict in this case.

Similarly, there was no record of the PCR vehicle entering the restaurant, and the guard of the restaurant had testified for the convict, but the court held that the guard seemed to have been won over by the convict and the record discrepancy might’ve been his doing. Further, his testimony was also not taken to be defective to prosecution’s case, with him being a hostile witness.

Furthermore, the gunshot sounds had not been heard by the neighbors but it was also held as not defecting prosecution’s case due to two reasons that are: one, the general apathy of witnesses against association with a murder case, and two, the possibility that the sound might not have carried from one closed flat to another. Similarly, it was held that the time of seizure of incriminating articles such as the bloodstained clothes or others is not relevant.

The first post-mortem report had been made superficially without proper x-ray being conducted so it had ruled the cause of death to be the fire, however, upon multiple other reports being made by different doctors, it was finally established that the actual causa mortis was the gunshot injuries.

What the Supreme Court Held

While the High Court had upheld the Trial Court’s punishment of death penalty to the convict, the Supreme Court took a slightly different stance. The Apex Court drew reliance on the theory of reformation and rehabilitation, and viewed the impending judgment in the light of the theories of proportionality and deterrence. The Court stated: “Judges should never be bloodthirsty” while standing by the opinion that decisions regarding the death penalty should be taken in light of the guiding principles laid down by the Supreme Court itself, interpreted and tailored according to the circumstances of each unique case.

It is to be noticed if the case has uncommon factors, i.e. if it is a “rarest of the rare” case. All alternatives must be vetted out. 

The court in its judgment in Para 101 stated:

“Mere brutality of the murder or the number of persons killed or the manner in which the body is disposed of has not always persuaded the Supreme Court to impose death penalty… Where murder, though, brutal, is committed driven by extreme emotional disturbance and it does not have enormous proportion, the option of life imprisonment has been exercised in certain cases… Where the accused had no criminal antecedents; where the State had not led any evidence to show that the accused is beyond reformation and rehabilitation or that he would revert to similar crimes in future, the Supreme Court has leaned in favor of life imprisonment. In such cases, doctrine of proportionality and the theory of deterrence have taken a back seat. The theory of reformation and rehabilitation has prevailed over the idea of retribution (Sushil Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2014) 4 SCC 317).”

The Court relied on a number of factors to adjudge that the convict was not a cold-blooded criminal, incapable of reform or remorse, such as his love for the deceased, the fact that he wept upon seeing the dead body, as well as his parents being old and infirm.

The Court, therefore, in its judgment relied upon these theories as well as the caution sounded in Bachan Singh, (1980) 2 SCC 684, to commute the High Court and the Trial Court’s death sentence into a life imprisonment sentence. It is also pertinent to note that the convict had spent more than 10 years in death cell already at the time of the pronouncement of this judgment.

The Court, thus, confirmed his conviction for the offenses punishable under Section 302 (murder), Section 120-B (Criminal Conspiracy) read with Section 201 (Causing Disappearance of Evidence of Offense). The co-accused was only held guilty for the offense under S.201.


This case was pivotal to the advancement of the field of forensics as well as its conjunction with criminal investigation. Vice versa forensic investigation was pivotal to the unfolding of this case. Crucial components of forensics were touched upon, such as DNA profiling, ballistics and weapon-identification, and port-mortem scrutiny. Other evidentiary concepts were also clarified such as hostile or inimical witness and his testimony’s evidentiary value, as well as the experts (doctors) failing to conduct x-ray as part of proper post-mortem investigation. The judgment in the end also touched upon the theory of the “rarest of the rare” cases, keeping in view the reformative approach and giving it preference over the retributive approach.

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