An Indian judge is due to hand down his verdict on Monday in a sensational murder trial in which a prosperous dentist couple stand accused of slashing the throats of their teenage daughter and live-in servant.
Rajesh and Nupur Talwar are charged with murdering their only child, 14-year-old Aarushi, and their 45-year-old Nepalese domestic worker Hemraj by slitting their throats “with clinical precision” at their home in an affluent New Delhi suburb on the night of May 15, 2008.
Police allege Aarushi was killed in a fit of rage when her parents found her with the servant in an “objectionable” situation, while the couple insist they are victims of an incompetent investigation and vigilante justice in a case that has gripped the public imagination.
“We loved Arushi, we have no lives without her. This has been a never-ending nightmare,” Rajesh Talwar told Agence France-Presse in a recent interview outside the rundown courtroom where the witness stand is held together by rope and monkeys romp on the roof.
The prosecution concedes there is no forensic or material evidence against the couple, basing its case on the “last-seen theory” — which holds that the victims were last seen with the accused.
Her parents say they found Aarushi dead on her bed.
Police initially blamed the Talwars’ missing Nepalese servant for the murder, only to discover his 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 who hailed from Nepal, Hemraj’s friends.
Police accused them of the murders after lie-detector tests suggested they sought to attack Aarushi only to meet resistance from Hemraj. But they were released because of a lack of hard evidence.
The botched probe — investigators failed to seal the crime scene, allowing neighbors and relatives to swarm the home, or find the second body for more than 24 hours — prompted police to shut 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 ended up charged with the murder themselves.
Graphic newspaper accounts appeared about the couple’s lives, painting them as immoral members of a wife-swapping club.
The crime has spawned a nation of armchair detectives debating every twist in the case and public opinion about the identity of the killers is polarized.
The defense 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 police investigation have badly undermined 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,” defence lawyer Rebecca John told Agence France-Presse. “They refuse to admit the possibility of an outsider.”
John believes “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”. AFP