Aarushi trial: Death of a not so 'key' witness steals limelight

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 25, 2012 21:23 hrs

Tuesday’s most important development in the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial wasn’t the release of co-accused Nupur Talwar from jail, or the death of a “key” witness. It was a seemingly innocuous application to the special court: a simple prayer by the prosecution to allow the CBI to place some additional documents on record. This event is full of implications, but as has often happened through this trial, the media looked elsewhere: to Nupur’s release, and the death of a policeman.

The end of her days in custody comes as a great relief to the Talwars, but it wasn’t exactly news. The Supreme Court had granted her bail eight days ago, setting a 25 September deadline. On Tuesday, the trial court in Ghaziabad met the deadline: papers for Nupur’s release were sent to Dasna jail. She was released in the evening — and walked immediately into a television story.

The “key witness”, whose death became a talking point on television and the internet hours earlier, was a man called Jagbir Singh, who it was reported, was the "first investigating officer" of the case. He was not.

A UP police sub-inspector, Singh’s involvement lasted barely a week, and ended when the CBI took over the case in early June 2008. Aarushi, and the Talwars’ manservant Hemraj, were murdered on the night of 15 May. Singh is nominally listed as Prosecution Witness No 120, but most likely would not even have been summoned. No statement from him was ever recorded. His signature appears (along with several others) in a few seizure memos, and that’s about it.

Last week, Jagbir Singh and his colleagues were on picket duty in a communally sensitive area in Ghaziabad, where riots recently claimed six lives. Late Friday night, a truck ran over him and several other policemen. Three, including Singh, were killed in the accident.

The next day’s papers carried brief mentions. Four days later, as Nupur Talwar was about to be released, Jagbir Singh posthumously became a “key” witness in widely tweeted reports that told you very little about the case — and a lot about the media. The insertion of the word “key” before “witness” is, of course, key. That’s how stories become important.

But what of the piece of paper in court that really mattered? In it the CBI has asked that it be allowed to place on record some “documents collected during investigation” as evidence. Several of the documents before the trial court are only relevant pages of lengthier versions and the application seeks to complete the record.

Except that it does much more than that. Slipped into the list of “documents collected during investigation” is a crucial piece of paper that was obtained well after the investigation was closed.

It is a letter that turns the case upside down. Written by a scientist at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad, on March 24 2011, it says the CDFD had made “typographical errors” with regard to certain reports.

The report in question originally said the victim Hemraj’s DNA was found on a pillow cover recovered from another Nepali employee of the Talwars, Krishna — who lived in the servant’s quarters of another flat in the same NOIDA complex.

In its 2011 clarification, written in response to a CBI letter three months after the investigation was closed, the CDFD effectively said this was not the case. The sample in question was mixed up with another piece of evidence — a pillow and cover recovered from Hemraj’s room — in its report. Hemraj’s DNA was found on this item, not on what was seized from Krishna’s room, the letter clarified.

The "typos" raise several questions:

- From the record, it is only when the defence is given access to documents as the case is listed for trial that the CBI wakes up to the fact that while they are building a case based on circumstantial evidence against the Talwars, there is a forensic report that suggests the involvement of someone else. The CDFD report was submitted in November 2008, no one in the CBI spotted either the evidence of Krishna’s involvement, or asked for a clarification on any “typo” until the defence pleaded for a reinvestigation citing the CDFD report.

- The CBI convinced the Allahabad High Court hearing a petition for reinvestigation filed by the Talwars, that the defence’s claim on the report was false — the result of a typo. The court rejected the Talwar’s plea, six days before the CDFD sent in its clarification.

- The introduction of this document into the trial has many advantages for the prosecution. Without it, the original report of the CDFD, incriminating someone other than the Talwars, stands.

- The prosecution has tried to give the impression that the document was part of the investigation — although it was demonstrably obtained well afterward. However, the law is not settled on whether such evidence can be admitted. The defence will file its objections, but as always, the trial court will decide — in two days time.

More on Aarushi trial:

Aarushi Trial: How the court works

Trial games set to intensify as Nupur gets bail

Peculiar development stumps CBI

CBI's loss is Talwars' gain

Friends of the Talwars give testimony

Killer's palm print lost due to a cop's negligence?

The mystery of the bloodstained, locked terrace door

CBI's Teacher's Day

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 avirook@gmail.com

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