Aarushi trial: The forgetful forensics man

Last Updated: Mon, Aug 27, 2012 21:27 hrs

Earlier this month, during his (long) deposition to the special court trying Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar for the murder of their daughter Aarushi and servant Hemraj, forensic scientist Dr B.K. Mohapatra had made an alarming revelation. He had put on record that a pillow case belonging to Hemraj, that contained the murdered servant’s DNA, was recovered from Aarushi’s room.

On Monday, while being cross-examined, the scientist said he “did not know” where the pillow cover was recovered from.

The claim that the pillow cover was collected from Aarushi’s room had serious implications: it suggested that the servant and Aarushi were together in the room when the Talwars walked in on them. This was the grave and sudden provocation for the murders. The CBI has repeated this motive often enough, but had consistently admitted that there was no hard evidence (such as blood or DNA) that placed Hemraj in Aarushi’s room.

This is until Dr. Mohapatra, senior scientist at the CFSL came along. Dr Mohapatra was part of a 12-member team comprising CBI officers and experts that collected evidence from the Talwars’ NOIDA flat on 1 June, 2008, 15 days after the murders.

The controversial pillow case was among the articles seized for forensic examination. On Monday, Dr Mohapatra told the court that he collected these samples himself, but after a curious little exchange. He first said he had assistants (he did), and then said “Ok. I collected them.”

His signature appears on the seizure memo.

But the memo, doesn’t specifically mention where the pillow cover was recovered from — even though the location of every other item is recorded. During his testimony, Dr Mohapatra had made the claim that it was found in Aarushi’s room, based on a forwarding letter from a CBI SP who was not present at the time of the seizures.

Now, he says, he “does not know”.

Where was this crucial piece of evidence actually found? Before the trial began, the CBI has told the Supreme Court, through an affidavit, that it was recovered from Hemraj’s room.

On Monday, it emerged that the 1 June seizures were recorded both on video and in still photographs, by an entity called the “photo division” according to Dr Mohapatra. The video, stills (or both) would easily establish where the recoveries were made. However, the court did not hear anything about where the footage was. And while an album of photographs containing a number of shots of the 1 June seizures was displayed, there were no pictures of the controversial pillow cover.

The earlier part of Dr Mohapatra’s cross-examination concerned the procedures and technical guidelines he had followed. Amid questions on ‘loci’, ‘peaks’ and ‘allelles’ (all key scientific terms in the field DNA fingerprinting) and Dr Mohapatra’s personal familiarity with the science, the court told the counsel for the defence to stick to questions “concerning the case”.

Taking the cue, the forensic scientist pleaded with the court that the cross-examination be wrapped up — it has lasted a week.

Questions on the pillow cover and the 1 June, 2008 recoveries that Dr Mohapatra was directly involved with followed. And in a page and a quarter of responses, Dr Mohapatra said he “did not know/could not remember” 15 times.

Where in the flat did the seizures begin? He could not remember. Did he know if the the CBI was given a video of the seizures? He did not. Whose seals were on the samples collected? He did not know. Did he remember where items like the pillow case and blanket were recovered? He did not. Did he mark any blood stains on the way to the terrace? He could not remember.

Dr Mohapatra is the second witness testifying on the collection and analysis of hard evidence (like photographs or DNA). Like Chunnilal Gautam, the police photographer who testified before him, the text of Dr Mohapatra’s cross-examination is littered with dhyaan nahin hai.

One reason offered, even in court, is that a man who has handled so many examinations (500 plus) and deposed so many times (50 plus), cannot possibly remember the details of every item collected. This leads to an interesting fallacy: the more “experienced” you are, the more you are entitled to say dhyan nahin hai.

After three rigorous hours, Dr Mohapatra sat down for a well-earned cup of tea at Sitaram’s stall (the Ghaziabad court’s finest). In between sips he complained of how long his cross-examination was taking, and blamed it on deliberate delays by the defence. “They have run out of questions”, he said.

Dr Mohapatra returns on Tuesday for a final time, and it remains to be seen whether the defence has indeed run out of questions. As for answers, though, there will never be a shortage of dhyaan nahin hai -- it works every time.

More on Aarushi trial:

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Why the Aarushi trial is like a game of chess

Traces of blood, lots of rain, no power

Doctor only willing to take 'unsigned' responsibility

'Strange' but not 'abnormal'

Screaming advocates and a media-friendly lawyer!

The mysterious case of a morning walker

Dhyan Nahin Hai, sings UP cop

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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