GHAZIABAD, India // A wealthy couple were found guilty yesterday of slitting the throats of their teenage daughter and a domestic worker in a murder trial that has obsessed India for five years.
Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, both dentists, were convicted of killing Aarushi, 14, and Hemraj Banjade, 45, their Nepali employee, supposedly using a dental scalpel at their home in an affluent New Delhi suburb in 2008.
Investigators said Aarushi was killed in a fit of rage when her parents found her with Banjade in an “objectionable” situation, while the couple insisted they were victims of police incompetence and a media witch hunt.
“They have been found guilty of murder and destruction of evidence,” the prosecutor RK Saini said outside the small, rundown court in Ghaziabad, a city near Delhi.
The couple face life in prison and possibly the death penalty when they are sentenced today
The case has spawned a nation of armchair detectives debating every twist in the investigation, turned the Talwars into household names and polarised public opinion.
The verdict came as India increasingly focuses on crimes against women including sexual offences and so-called honour killings following the gang rape of a student in Delhi last year that sparked national outrage.
The Talwars burst into tears upon hearing the verdict, and were swiftly taken into police custody at the packed court.
“We are deeply disappointed, hurt and anguished for being convicted for a crime that we have not committed,” the couple said in a written statement.
“We refuse to feel defeated and will continue to fight for justice.”
Family and friends of the couple lambasted police, the legal system and the media whom they accused of “turning against us from day one”.
“We are a professional working family and what do we have on our side? We only have truth on our side, the facts and evidence as we knew them,” said Vandana Talwar, Rajesh Talwar’s sister-in-law.
“But we are pitched against an organisation that believes and deals with fabrications, manipulations, with suppressing and hiding all the facts that show the parents are innocent.”
The prosecution had conceded there is no forensic or material evidence against the couple, and has based its case on the “last-seen theory”, which holds that the victims were last seen with the accused.
Aarushi was found on her bed with her throat slit in May 2008. Police initially blamed Banjade, who was missing, 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 Nepali dental assistant along with two other domestic workers, Banjade’s friends, but they were all later released because of a lack of hard evidence.
The botched investigation — investigators failed to seal the crime scene, allowing neighbours and relatives to swarm over it, and found the second body more than 24 hours after the murder, 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, as media speculation about the successful couple intensified.
Lurid newspaper reports, often based on quotes from unnamed policemen, appeared about their lives, demonising them as decadent and unrepentant, even part of a wife-swapping club.
The case so gripped the country that one man, with no connection to the case, attacked Rajesh Talwar with a meat cleaver during a court appearance in 2011, leaving his cheek and hand deeply scarred.
The defence team, led by one of India’s best-known criminal lawyers who is representing the Talwars for free, said they would appeal.
“It clearly is a knock for us, a devastating blow for all of us,” the lawyer Rebecca John said.
“We will challenge the verdict. We will be appealing in the Allahabad High Court. I have complete faith in the innocence of my clients.”
* Agence France-Presse