The story of Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur Talwar is a modern-day tragedy: from a successful professional couple who doted on their teenage daughter, they have now come to be described as filicidal freaks who “extirpated” their own progeny. The two dental surgeons have been sentenced to life terms for murdering their 14-year-old daughter Aarushi, and domestic worker Hemraj, in May 2008 after detecting a sexual liaison between the girl and the live-in help. And, according to the verdict, they hid the servant’s body on the terrace, dressed up the crime scene, secreted the weapons used — a golf club and a surgical scalpel that surfaced long after the probe began — and misled the police by giving a complaint that Hemraj was missing and was therefore the culprit. The investigation begun by the local police was widely seen as a botch-up: it took them a whole day to come to know that the body of the ‘suspect’, Hemraj, had been lying on the terrace all along; the crime scene was largely unprotected. The judgment caps a see-saw investigation in which more than one theory was probed and none could be confirmed with cogent evidence. At one stage, the Central Bureau of Investigation, which took over the probe from the Noida police, gave other suspects a clean chit and said the Talwars were indeed involved, but it had no prosecutable evidence against them. It filed a closure report, but the court rejected it and went ahead with the trial based on available circumstantial evidence.

The defence raised several doubts about the prosecution version, including the absence of a motive, and claimed that alternative possibilities were ruled out without adequate investigation. Ultimately, the court went by the fact that they had no explanation for the “incriminating circumstances” in which they found themselves. They were the only ones in the house at the relevant time, as the two remaining occupants were dead. And there was no sign of a forced entry. The trial court’s conclusions will be tested in the High Court on appeal. Like other sensational cases — a term that invariably refers to ones on which the media bestow extra attention — this case too saw the mainstream and social media resorting to wild speculation and heated discussions. Normally, trial court judgments are expected to give a quietus to all doubts about the guilt or innocence of suspects, but given the media frenzy, it is doubtful whether the outcome turns only on evidence in such cases. Alternative theories abound in the public domain, making it difficult for investigators and judges to go solely by the quality and adequacy of the evidence, and not be influenced by public opinion. They have a duty to convince the public at the end of the trial that they have allayed all reasonable doubts.