For the past one month, the CBI has tried to give the special CBI court hearing the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial the impression that traces of Hemraj's blood were found in Aarushi's room. On Wednesday, it became clear that the agency had been misleading the court.
The issue of Hemraj's blood in Aarushi's room first came up in forensic scientist Dr B.K. Mohapatra's testimony to the court. The ‘fact' was then circulated among journalists—through both whispered and open briefings—and received unquestioned coverage in almost every major news outlet.
The ‘fact' was of tremendous importance. It meant the Talwars' manservant was in Aarushi's room at a socially unacceptable hour on the night of the murders. If this was the case, the "honour killing" conjecture gets the support of hard evidence, and a reasonable sequence of events falls in place.
Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, who stand accused, discover their daughter with Hemraj. Dr Talwar picks up a golf club and batters both daughter and servant in a rage and then slits their throats to make sure they are dead. His wife and accomplice, Nupur, then helps erase as much evidence as possible. Together they alter the scene of crime to deflect suspicion away from them.
The CBI has never been shy of theorizing on the motive. What it lacked, by its own repeated admissions, was evidence that supported the beginning of the story: that Hemraj and Aarushi were found together.
This partly explains why it tried to pass off a patent falsehood as a fact. Had this gone undetected, the prosecution would have been within touching distance of a conviction. But it did not go undetected.
In a short, dramatic, little scene at the Ghaziabad court, the pillow cover was unsealed and displayed. A cloth tag attached to it testified its provenance. The tag said: "Pillow and pillow cover, blood stained (from servant's room)". This was the primary record of the seizure. The tag bears the signatures of Dr Mohapatra's Central Forensic Science Laboratory colleague Dr Rajinder Singh, and CBI inspector Pankaj Bansal.
Dr Mohapatra was a key member of the 12-man team that made the seizure on June 1 2008. In his testimony, he had said the pillow cover was recovered from Aarushi's room, according to a forwarding letter he had received from the CBI three days later. The letter was from an officer who wasn't present during the seizures. When cross-examined, Dr Mohapatra made a significant change to his testimony, he said he "did not remember" where the pillow cover was found. On Wednesday, he was asked to read aloud from the tag quoted above.
It isn't that the prosecution didn't try to prevent this, say defence lawyers. R.K. Saini, the tonsured CBI counsel, whose right eyebrow twitches uncontrollably during every exciting event, first tried to get the exhibit done with, with a "yeh to ho gaya". The informative tag was folded into the pillow cover and the item needed to be unfurled for the tag to be read. Saini, say defence lawyers, didn't want this to happen. The CBI counsel denies all these allegations.
What does all this mean for the case? The CBI says it makes no difference whatsoever. The defence looks at it as an important victory: an attempted frame-up exposed in court.
The trial judge has the task of measuring the impact of Wednesday's events. But a number of questions need to now be answered.
The CBI had told the Supreme Court months ago that the pillow cover that has caused so much confusion was found in Hemraj's room. What prompted the prosecution to change its mind during the trial?
Well before Dr Mohapatra had made the revelation about the pillow cover, I had separately asked him and the CBI counsel Saini whether there was a possibility of the prosecution going beyond what was on record in the form of forensic test results during Dr Mohapatra's testimony. None of these reports suggested Hemraj's presence in Aarushi's room, I had said. Dr Mohapatra told me: "How can you say that?" Saini had said: "There may be. You will have to wait and see."
CBI officers on the case now say their witness was going by what was on record: the forwarding note to Dr Mohapatra, which placed the item in Aarushi's room. The tag displayed on Wednesday was under seal, they say, officers or witnesses had no way of knowing what was written on it. Everyone found out only today.
This throws up a further question. If the forwarding letter was the only available record, how did A.G.L. Kaul, the CBI investigating officer, sign the affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court that said the pillow cover was recovered from Hemraj's room?
By the CBI's account, there was only one place where this information was available in writing—and you could access it only by breaking a seal, the way the trial court did it.
Dr Mohapatra could not identify the seal that was broken in court. And another box that was labeled as containing a second controversial blood-spotted pillow cover belonging to Krishna—a former suspect—did not have the item in it.
As the chain of custody of evidence in the case gets ever murkier, a new witness takes the stand on Thursday.More on Aarushi trial: Complete Coverage - Aarushi Trial Special Articles -
Suspicious servants, blood stains and a reckless typo
The forgetful forensics man
Screaming advocates and a media-friendly lawyer!
The forensic expert's puzzling testimony
Why the Aarushi trial is like a game of chess
Traces of blood, lots of rain, no power
Currently a visiting fellow at INSEAD, France, Avirook Sen has been a journalist and writer for over 20 years. A former resident editor of Hindustan Times (Mumbai) and editor of Mid-Day, he has written with passion and insight on subjects as varied as sport and terrorism for top publications across the world. His first book, Looking for America, was published in 2010 to enthusiastic reviews. You can write to him at email@example.com