Aarushi trial: A double murder of forensics and investigation

The casualties in the Noida double murder case don’t just include fourteen year old Aarushi Talwar and 45 year old Hemraj Banjade. The science of forensics and the protocol of police investigation were also murdered in cold blood.

While hoping for a CSI: Las Vegas kind of investigation seems far-fetched, the least we can expect is decent zero-hour collection of evidence.

The UP police was criticised for not cordoning off the crime scene immediately. A forensic scientist later complained that when his team visited the house to capture the fingerprints, they found many people, including the media, freely roaming around the apartment, contaminating the crime scene. According to the CBI team, 90 percent of the evidence at the crime scene had been destroyed due to the police's negligence.

Nupur Talwar being led away from the courthouse after the verdict: Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

Nupur Talwar being led away from the courthouse after the verdict: Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

The CBI played its part too. Officers seemed more interested in asking parents the protocols of a sleepover and getting to the bottom of why exactly weren’t parents allowed there or if other adults were involved.

DNA columnist Sunetra Choudhury writes:

“Instead of trying to hide the weaknesses in the case or pretend that they don’t exist, which is what most investigating agencies do, the CBI in a detailed manner lists out how it feels the parents must have been the only ones who could have committed the murder, but also admits that it can’t explain why Nupur’s clothes, unlike her husband Rajesh’s, have no trace of blood. It can’t explain why, if Hemraj was killed at the same time that Aarushi was killed, his blood was nowhere to be found in the room. And it can’t explain why hours after the murder, Hemraj’s mobile signal was picked up by some tower in Punjab. How did it reach there if his body was lying on the Talwars’ terrace? The phone was never found, but what is the Punjab connection? "

The Talwars asked for a Touch DNA test to analyse the palm print found on the terrace (close to Hemraj’s body), and the Scotch whisky bottle. The Talwars also asked for a Touch DNA test on the golf club that was allegedly used as the murder weapon. They even offered to pay for these tests.

Touch DNA is the next wave of DNA testing that doesn't require blood or semen samples. It analyses skin cells left behind when assailants touch victims, weapons or anything else at a crime scene. This technique has dramatically increased the number of items of evidence that can be used for DNA detection. In a similar case of the murder of a six year old child in the United States, this method cleared the cloud of suspicion that hung over the child's family for 12 years.

The CBI consulted J Nagaraju, a molecular genetics scientist (and director of the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, which conducted the DNA testing for the Aarushi case). Nagaraju dismissed the reliability of the LCN DNA technology and the possibility of it yielding any fresh evidence.

Low Copy Number (LCN) DNA is a profiling technique used by only a few coutries, especially in cold cases. Being a sensitive test, a profile can be obtained from only a few cells - from a few skin cells or sweat from a fingerprint. In this case, it was wiser not to use this technique as the increased sensitivity of LCN also increases the risks posed by contamination of the samples. Even breathing on a sample may contaminate it enough to render the final profile unusable.

Having said that, there have been instances in the UK where presumably unsolvable crimes were opened after decades and the criminal could still be traced through this method.

Here, the Supreme Court rejected the Talwars' appeal, and refused to order any further investigation.

Finding the forensics a dead end, CBI Joint-Director Arun Kumar turned to Narcoanalysis. Both Nupur and Rajesh Talwar easily cleared the tests. They also showed no knowledge of the crime.

By this time, the CBI's suspicion had moved to Hemraj's Nepali acquaintances: Krishna (an assistant at the Talwars' clinic), Rajkumar and Vijay (domestic servants). According to the CBI, the three men were let in the house by Hemraj.

Krishna, who worked as an assistant at the Talwars' clinic, held a grudge against Rajesh, who had reprimanded him for an occupational mistake. The investigators suspected that the three men tried to sexually assault Aarushi and killed her when she resisted; Hemraj was killed as he was the only witness to their entry in the house. The CBI claimed that the three men had confessed to the crime in narco tests after being injected with sodium pentothal.

Still so many unanswered questions about Aarushi's death: Image from IBNlive

Still so many unanswered questions about Aarushi's death: Image from IBNlive

The use of narcoanalytics in India has been a murky issue with the Supreme Court declaring the use of narcoanalysis, brainmapping and polygraph tests on suspects, "illegal" .

Narco, polygraph or brainmapping tests cannot be conducted on any person, whether an accused or a suspect, without their consent, the SC's judgement said in 2010.  The recent examples of use of narco tests include those of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab who was involved in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai – Kasab and a case where the Madhya Pradesh government allowed narco testing in an investigation around killing of tigers.

In this case, there were accusations that the three men had been drilled with misinformation prior to their tests, and their lawyer later approached the NHRC with video recordings of the tests that allegedly showed the CBI "putting words in their mouths" and torturing them to confess the crimes.

Their supporters claimed that the investigators were trying to frame the poor Nepalis in order to protect the upper-class Talwars. Ultimately, all the suspects were released due to the lack of any hard evidence: all of them had alibis and their DNA or fingerprints were not found at the crime scene.

These are just few of the examples that cite the unexplained queries that should have been addressed before any reports were filed.

For the national investigative agency to base its reports on such loosely bound facts and theories is downright shameful. While the point is not to insinuate that the CBI is trying to frame the Talwars, isn’t it worth noting that even after the CBI admitted the circumstantial evidence had “critical and substantial gaps” and wanted to shut the case, it was the Talwars themselves who opposed the closure?

Had the Talwars not challenged the closure report, yesterday would have been just another day at the Ghaziabad courtroom.

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Updated Date: Nov 26, 2013 07:49:49 IST

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