Indian dentist couple found guilty of murder

AFP, GHAZIABAD, India

Tue, Nov 26, 2013 - Page 6

A judge found an Indian dentist couple guilty yesterday of slitting the throats of their teenage daughter and a servant after a murder trial that obsessed India for years, a lawyer said.

“They have been found guilty of murder. They have been found guilty of the destruction of evidence,” Manoj Kumar Rai, who was inside the court to hear the judge’s verdict, told reporters.

Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were charged with killing Aarushi, 14, and Nepalese employee Hemraj Banjade by slitting their throats “with clinical precision” at their home in an affluent New Delhi suburb in 2008.

The couple burst into tears when judge Shyam Lal read out the verdict in a packed court room in Ghaziabad, a city just outside the capital.

“We are deeply disappointed, hurt and anguished for being convicted for a crime that we have not committed. We refuse to feel defeated and will continue to fight for justice,” the Talwars said in a written statement given to reporters outside.

The couple face life in prison and possibly the death penalty when the judge hands down his sentence today.

Investigators allege Aarushi was killed in a fit of rage when her parents found her with the 45-year-old domestic servant in an “objectionable” situation, while the couple have insisted they are victims of police incompetence and a media witchhunt.

The case has spawned a nation of armchair detectives debating every twist in investigation, turned the Talwars into household names, and polarized public opinion.

The prosecution has conceded there was no forensic or material evidence against the couple, basing its case solely on the “last-seen theory” — which holds that the victims were last seen with the accused.

Aarushi was found dead on her bed one morning in May 2008.

Police initially blamed the missing Hemraj — only to discover his decomposing body on the roof a day later.

His throat was also cut and he had a head wound.

Officers then arrested Rajesh Talwar’s Nepalese dental assistant along with two other local servants — Hemraj’s friends — but they were all later released because of a lack of hard evidence.

The botched probe — investigators failed to seal the crime scene, allowing neighbors and relatives to swarm over it, or to find the second body for more than 24 hours — prompted police to close the case in 2010, citing no substantial evidence.

The Talwars then insisted they wanted the killers found and petitioned the court to reopen the case — but found themselves charged with murder.

Lurid newspaper reports, often based on quotes from unnamed police officers, appeared about their lives, demonizing them as decadent and unrepentant, even part of a wife-swapping club.

The defence team, led by one of India’s best-known criminal lawyers who is representing the Talwars for free, believes the frenzied media coverage and the bungled investigation have badly undermined the chances of justice.

“The big mathematical equation for the prosecution is two people died so the other two people in the house must have done it,” lawyer Rebecca John said. “They refuse to admit the possibility of an outsider.”

John believes that “in any other country, such third-rate evidence would not have seen the light of day” and said that a “guilty verdict would shame India’s justice system.”