An Indian court has found a dentist couple guilty of killing their 13-year-old daughter and a domestic help in a murder that sent shock waves across the country, followed by an even more labyrinthine investigation that had the nation transfixed.
Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were convicted of killing Aarushi, and their Nepalese domestic help, Hemraj Banjade, by slitting their throats “with clinical precision” at their home in an affluent New Delhi suburb on May 16, 2008.
“They have been found guilty of murder and destruction of evidence,” said a lawyer who was present at the hearing on Monday.
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 lawyer, quoted by agencies as Manoj Kumar Rai, told reporters that the couple had been found guilty under the Indian Penal Code sections 302 for murder, 201 for destruction of evidence, 34 for commonality of purpose and 203 for giving false evidence.
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 Indian capital of New Delhi.
The couple’s lawyer, Rebecca John, said they would appeal the verdict in a higher court.
“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.
Another lawyer in the Talwars’ team of counsels, Satyaketu Singh, was quoted by the DNA newspaper as saying, “There was no evidence, disappointed with the verdict. It’s wrong.”
But a lawyer for the federal agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which investigated the murders, R K Saini, was quoted as saying, “The court said according to the circumstances there is no one else who could commit the crime.”
Section 302, under which the couple was found guilty, could mean possible death or life in jail, which will be known after the judge hands down the sentence, expected after arguments on Tuesday.
In court, the prosecution argued that Aarushi was killed in a fit of rage when her parents found her with the 45-year-old domestic servant in an “objectionable” situation. This was challenged by the dentist couple who insisted that they were the victims of police incompetence and a media witch-hunt.
Aarushi was found dead in her room on the morning of May 16, 2008. Police initially suspected missing domestic servant Hemraj, only to discover his decomposing body on the terrace of the house a day later. His throat too had been slit and he had a wound on his head.
The investigations were handled messily by the local police who, among other things, were criticised for publicly making known their suspicions and leads hours after the murders were discovered, and for being unable to prevent crucial evidence from getting destroyed.
Under intense media criticism, the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state Mayawati transferred the case to the CBI. But, the elite investigative team filed a closure report in the case on December 29, 2010 citing “insufficient evidence” .
The report was rejected by District Magistrate Priti Singh who directed the Talwars to stand trial. “In such a case where the incident has happened inside the home, visible evidence cannot be ignored,” the court said. The Talwars then moved a higher court which dismissed their pleas to quash the trial. The dentist couple then approached the country’s Supreme Court but to no avail.