Lucknow, Oct. 12: Allahabad High Court today acquitted dentists Rajesh and Nupur Talwar of the 2008 murder of their 14-year-old daughter Aarushi and servant Hemraj Banjade, a case that had gripped the country and was marked by howlers and flip-flops by police and the CBI.
The bench of Justices B.K. Narayana and A.K. Mishra said the evidence against the couple, serving a life sentence since November 26, 2013, was not strong enough to deny them the benefit of the doubt.
Nupur, 51, and Rajesh, 53, could be freed from their Ghaziabad jail tomorrow. The CBI has not said if it would challenge the acquittal, which has plunged the question of who killed Aarushi back into mystery.
Jailor D.R. Maurya told reporters that Rajesh had hugged him and "burst into tears" after learning of the acquittal and "Nupur was silent but in tears too".
The Talwars' lawyer Rebecca John said the entire case was based on "innuendos" and hoped her clients would now be allowed privacy.
"There is a strong possibility that (the) incident was caused by some outsider.... We find neither the circumstances nor evidence are consistent, and circumstances did not complete a chain showing involvement of appellants," the 263-page verdict said.
"In case where two views are possible, the view taken for conviction of appellants may not be correct. In the absence of circumstantial evidence to complete the chain, it is a fit case where benefit of doubt can be given."
Aarushi was found in her bed with her throat slit at the Talwars' upscale Noida apartment on May 16, 2008. Police promptly announced the missing Hemraj, 45, as the suspect and announced a reward for information about him.
But the cops had egg on their face when the servant's body was found on the terrace the next day. Two days on, the police named the Talwars' former domestic hand, Vishnu Sharma, as the suspect but changed tack four days later, declaring it an "honour killing" and arresting Rajesh.
The then inspector-general of police (Meerut), Gurdarshan Singh, held an infamous news conference to claim that Rajesh had found Aarushi and Hemraj in an "objectionable but not compromising position" and killed them. Another senior officer, Brij Lal, echoed him.
An angry Union minister for women and child development, Renuka Chowdhury, threatened legal action against the officers for the "character assassination" of a dead girl, and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights sought an explanation from the police chief.
On June 1, the case was handed over to the CBI, which carried out lie-detector tests on the couple but apparently found nothing. It then pinned the murder charge on Krishna Thadarai, the couple's compounder; Rajkumar, domestic hand of a friend of the Talwars; and Vijay Mandal, the driver of a neighbour; saying they had tried to rape Aarushi and Hemraj had resisted.
In December 2010, the CBI furnished a closure report in the Ghaziabad trial court saying the parents alone could be the killers but it had no evidence. The court refused to accept the report, asking the agency to treat it as the chargesheet.
On November 25, 2013, special CBI judge Shyam Lal convicted the couple saying that despite the lack of material evidence or established motive, the circumstances clearly indicated that they were the killers.
The Talwars challenged the verdict in January 2014. The high court began daily hearings in September 2016 and reserved its verdict on September 7 this year.