Actor Jiah Khan’s hanging was staged and the marks on her face and neck indicate it’s not a simple case of suicide, a British forensic expert has concluded in a report, adding a fresh twist to the three-year-old case.
Jason Payne-James’s findings, which were studied by Mirror, contradict Indian experts’ report on Jiah’s death, and her mother, Rabia, intends to share them with a city sessions court on Wednesday. It remains to be seen if the court will admit a report by a foreign expert who was hired by Rabia, and not the state.
The development comes over a month after the CBI told the Bombay High Court that it had ruled out murder in the case.
Jiah, who had been dating actor Aditya Pancholi’s son, Sooraj, was found hanged in her Juhu apartment on June 3, 2013. Rabia has repeatedly said 25-year-old Jiah could not have committed suicide, and filed a petition for a thorough probe in the High Court, which asked the CBI to take up the case.
In December last year, the agency charged Sooraj with abetment to suicide. Unhappy with the probe, Rabia roped in Payne-James of UK-based Forensic Healthcare Services Ltd.
Payne-James studied the medical and post-mortem reports, analysed photographs of Jiah’s body and reviewed CCTV grabs and pictures of her room for his investigation.
The state’s forensic experts had said the injury marks on Jiah’s lower lip were probably the result of “friction with the teeth during the commission of the act [suicide]”. But Payne-James has said the injuries “represent either abrasions or bruises”, and are indicative of “blunt force trauma to the mouth region (for example punching or a hand placed over the mouth)”.
“In terms of their site and appearance, they are not typical of teeth marks,” the report states.
State forensic experts had said the ligature marks on Jiah’s neck “may be caused due to slippage of ligature material [dupatta] slightly downwards or the ligature knot present at that site”.
But Payne-James concluded that the dupatta could not have created such impressions. “It would seem unlikely that the diffuse pressure of the dupatta around the neck would cause the well-defined abraded ligature mark seen,” he has said.
The British forensic experts has also ruled out the possibility of the dupatta creating marks on Jiah’s lower jaw, contradicting state experts’ opinion that said the injury may have been caused by multiple knots on the dupatta.
“I would have expected any forensic specialist to have insisted on seeing the dupatta. I do not see that there is any realistic possibility of the dupatta creating the patterned injury under the chin. Other causes or objects should have been considered such as a blunt impact from a patterned object, or a ligature made of different material,” Payne-James’s report states.
He has questioned Indian investigators’ failure to explore theories other than suicide. “I do not believe that the possibility of a staged hanging after death that has been caused previously has been properly considered (e.g. ligature strangulation with some other material and then Nafisa Khan being ‘hung’ with the dupatta),” he has said. Jiah’s real name was Nafisa Rizvi Khan.
He adds: “The marks on the left arm and the lower lip are consistent with assaultive injuries… the marks of ligature and the mark on the chin are not consistent with simple hanging with the dupatta.”
Payne-James believes Indian forensic experts didn’t study medical evidence in the case thoroughly. “There are a number of serious misinterpretations (or exclusions of reasonable inferences) of the medical evidence, and that the apparent intention to attribute her death to suicide may mean that the real possibility of a staged hanging subsequent to earlier death at the hands of another has been missed,” the report states.
Rabia’s counsel, Dinesh Tiwari, said the findings showed that Indian investigators had not done a thorough job. “We will approach the court to take these findings into consideration,” he said.
But Aditya Pancholi raised doubts over the admissibility of the report. “This report is from a private forensic lab and it’s paid. We will see if a court admits it or not. The investigations have been done by different agencies and all of them have come to the same conclusion [that it was a suicide],” he said.
But legal experts Mirror spoke to said no judge would reject new insights into a case outright. “Any expert opinion is admissible before the court and the findings are taken into serious consideration. Now, what evidence was made available to the forensic lab that prepared the report holds key value,” said senior criminal lawyerRizwan Merchant.
ONE CASE, TWO THEORIES
INJURY MARKS ON JIAH’S LOWER LIP
What Indian experts said: Teeth marks caused on lower lip during “commission of the act [suicide]”
What Brit specialist says: Not typical teeth marks. Indicative of “blunt force trauma to the mouth region (for example punching or a hand placed over the mouth)”.
hat Indian experts said: Caused by “slippage of ligature material [dupatta] slightly downwards”
What Brit specialist says: Dupatta could not have created well-defined abraded ligature marks
HIS CONCLUSION: Apparent intention to attribute death to suicide may mean real possibility of a staged hanging subsequent to earlier death at the hands of another has been missed