Mumbai: In the Neeraj Grover murder case, Kannada actress Maria Susairaj, who has already served three-year term as undertrial, on Saturday walked free and claimed she is "innocent".

While addressing a press conference, marked by protests and high drama, Maria(30) said her conviction is a "stigma" on her life. The actress was sentenced to three-year imprisonment in the macabre killing of TV executive Neeraj Grover in May 2008.

Her lawyer Sharif Sheikh, who was present alongside, told a chaotic press conference that she would challenge it in the superior court.

Clad in a floral brown kurta and black pants, Maria, who earlier in the day was released from the Byculla jail, also said only "god brought me out" and that she has left her past behind. She also visited a church to offer prayers.

"I know I am innocent and my god knows I am innocent," Maria told the media at the Mumbai Press Club marked by protests by a group of people led by film-maker Ashok Pandit.

Armed with placards, the protesters initially remained quiet but as Sharif started giving details of the case and spoke against Grover the protest became vocal.

The starlet was found guilty under IPC Section 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) and awarded the maximum punishment of three-year jail term on Friday along with boyfriend Emlie Jerome, a former Navy officer.

Jerome (28) was held guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in the macabre killing of Grover (25) and awarded 10 years imprisonment of which he has already served three years.

Maria, who spoke intermittently with her lawyer addressing the media most of the time, said she was all sympathy for the family of Grover but refused to comment on her relations with him.

"I desperately sympathise (with Neeraj's family) losing somebody. The whole scenario is sad," she said.

Sharif also showed a photograph used by the prosecution to deny that Grover's body was cut into 300 pieces as was being claimed.

Neeraj's father Amarnath Grover said Maria had nothing to say other than that she was innocent. "She should have had the strength to own up to the truth in front of the media," he said. On Neeraj's family blaming her for the crime, Maria said, "I don't want to say anything about him or his family."

Even as most of what the struggling actress and her lawyer said got drowned in the din and cacophony, a glum-faced Maria admitted that she was still to come to terms with her new-found freedom and was undecided about her future.

"I am not going to decide anything for myself anymore. Let my family decide everything. I have put my past behind. I have not yet realised what is happening with me," she said.

"There are tears in my eyes. I have not faced people for three years and now this pressure (protest). You can't expect people to be cool," she said as Pandit and his supporters chanted slogans--"We want justice for Neeraj Grover" and "The killer should be hanged".

Several of them walked menacingly to the table where Maria and her lawyer were seated and demanded "Let the killer speak".

As the situation threatened to get out of control, Maria's lawyer Sheikh said those who did not want to hear what was being said at the media conference were free to leave the premises or the interaction will be called off abruptly.

Soon police was called in and the protestors made to leave. Some of them were pushed out of the venue by media persons who said if they had to make a point they should hold a press conference.

Maria said in the 3 years and 41 days that she was in jail, she felt blessed "as I got closer to God. I did a lot of painting, prayer meets."

Sheikh said as they were not satisfied with the verdict, they will file an appeal in the High Court.

"The police gave false information to the media about the victim's body being hacked into 300 pieces," he said showing a photograph of the remains of Neeraj's limbs.

On her complicity in the crime, Sheikh said, "She had gone to buy materials to dispose of Grover's body only because she was threatened by Jerome."


Agencies