Exclusive: Detailed account of Gauri Lankesh murder probe so far

The Special Investigation Team’s probe has been broken down into smaller units, with each sharing information on a need-to-know basis.
Exclusive: Detailed account of Gauri Lankesh murder probe so far
Exclusive: Detailed account of Gauri Lankesh murder probe so far
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by Arun Dev

Seconds before killing journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in cold blood, the attacker took his shooting position. With his left leg forward and slightly bent for stability, he held the weapon with both arms. Using his left arm to support the pistol, he aimed and fired four shots.

The attacker appears in the CCTV footage for a mere four seconds, but the investigators, who have gone through the clip several times over, say that the stance he took to fire the bullets was a trait of a trained shooter.

Despite the numerous theories around Lankesh’s murder, including motives and the method of the killing, investigators are focused on evidence that can yield results.

The Special Investigation Team’s probe has been broken down into smaller units, with each sharing information on a need-to-know basis.

Ten days after the journalist was shot dead outside her RR Nagar residence in Bengaluru, The Quint has gained exclusive information about the investigation so far. From finding an undamaged bullet to contacting the underworld and the strain of going through reams of footage, here is a blow-by-blow account of the SIT’s investigation so far.

Same weapon used to kill Kalburgi and Gauri? Too early to call

Each gun leaves behind a unique firing pin mark. A comparison of these on cartridges can identify the gun. However, the Forensic Sciences Lab in Bengaluru doesn’t have the cartridges from the MM Kalburgi murder case yet. The SIT has requested the Central Bureau of Investigation, which currently has possession of these cartridges, to hand over the evidence.

“The Forensics Department only has the photographs of the cartridges. It is not possible to compare a live cartridge with the photograph of another. They will have to be physically matched. And when that happens, it won’t be telling us the probability of being the same gun; instead, there will be a certain ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” says sources.

The source added that until they physically obtain the Kalburgi cartridges, the theory suggesting that the same weapon was, in fact, used will hold no legal value.

So, were Kalburgi and Lankesh shot using the same gun? The investigating officer simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “We don’t know yet.”

Then, what do we know?

Following the examination of the crime scene, the ballistic team has told the SIT that the weapon used was a country-made 7.65 mm calibre pistol. The bullets used were manufactured in the ordnance factory at Khadki in Maharashtra. Three bullets entered her body and one misfired. The shots were fired from a distance of two to seven metres.

One undamaged bullet recovered

If the attacker had fired only two shots at Lankesh, she would have survived, said one investigator. The first bullet injured her only superficially, the second bullet missed the vital organs, and the third missed the target. But, it was the fourth bullet that resulted in her death, entering from her right shoulder blade and hitting her heart.

Although most bullets disfigure as they enter an object, forensic experts recovered one bullet from her body that was not damaged. “In the Kalburgi case also, they have been able to recover an undamaged bullet. So, this would help the investigation,” the officer explained.

Supari gangs probed, ‘consulted’

With the CCTV footage making it clear that the attacker was trained in using firearms, the SIT team has contacted its sources from the supari killing gangs. This angle has been probed for two reasons: professional killers use one prized weapon for their killing and gangs keep a tab on their rival’s supari killings.

“We contacted elements from the underworld to explore the angle. I spoke to some of them personally. They pointed out that contracts to kill women and children are not taken up by these gangs,” the officer said.

CCTV footage provide vital clues, but time consuming

To give you an idea of the process, the team has sourced CCTV footage from hundreds of cameras shot over several days before the attack. To go through a day’s footage from one camera takes 24 hours. If the officer goes at 2X speed, then it takes 12 hours. “But, he should check if there is any notable development, which makes the process longer,” the officer explained.

The camera installed at Lankesh’s house was an infrared CCTV camera. As it was night, the features of the killer was not clear in the footage. “We can tell you that he was wearing a light-coloured shirt, which was tucked in. When we tried to look for someone with this description from the footage, many persons of interest emerged, and our teams are analysing them carefully,” the source added.

Image enhancement and tech support

According to investigators, image enhancement can only improve the image by 20 percent. At the same time, cops are now seeking the help of experts to ascertain the killer’s physical features such as his height and built. “Because of the angle of the camera, we can’t pinpoint his height, but we have been told there are methods to measure it and we are exploring them,” the officer said.

Her ideology is key, but investigation based on evidence, not motive

“Only when we catch the culprits, will we know the motive behind the murder,” the officer said, when asked about the possible motive.

“If we approach the investigation with a motive in our head, we will be trying to make the evidence match that narrative. But, we have been clear; we will go systematically with evidence,” the officer said.

Yes, her politics and activism are important to the investigation, but these angles will be probed based purely on evidence, the officer added.

Republished with permission from The Quint.

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