On Tuesday, Dr B.K. Mohapatra, of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, completed his deposition before the CBI special court in Ghaziabad where the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial is in progress. On the final day of his testimony, Dr. Mohapatra made two intriguing claims: that the vaginal swabs he had examined, purportedly exctracted from Aarushi, contained traces of more than one female DNA sequence. And that the clothes the accused wore on the night of the murders may have washed before CFSL examined them.
The case of Aarushi’s vaginal swabs is particularly interesting. Dr Sunil Dohare, the doctor who carried out Aarushi’s post-mortem has said that a hospital sweeper had prepared them under his “close supervision and guidance”. Dr Dohare had not taken a vaginal swab before. He did “not put any identification mark on the slides”. They were wrapped in a bandage, placed in an envelope and handed over to the constable who had brought the dead body to be sent for further examination. The police had specifically asked Dr Dohare if there was evidence of any sexual assault on the victim.
The same day, May 16 2008, the unmarked slides arrived at the Government District Hospital in NOIDA’s sector 39, where a technician received the envelope. The slides then went to Dr Ritcha Saxena, the pathologist who examined them. Dr Saxena happens to be the wife of the man who conducted the post-mortem on Hemraj the next day, Dr Naresh Raj. She also knew Nupur Talwar well. The pathologist’s tests showed there was no semen present in the samples. The slides went into a steel almirah in the hospital’s laboratory.
Shortly thereafter, the CBI then took over the case, recovered the slides and sent them on for testing to the the CFSL. At the lab, Dr Mohapatra examined them. The results of his examination were “inconclusive”. On Tuesday, he explained to the court that this was because there was “biological material” from “more than one woman” on the slides.
The story does not end there. After CFSL was done with them, the slides were sent for further examination to the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics in Hyderabad. The CDFD report categorically says that the swabs could not have from the biological offspring of Rajesh and Nupur Talwar.
So whose were they? And where were the swabs that Dr Dohare collected?
Dr Ritcha Saxena, who first examined the slides for semen, was asked whether Nupur Talwar tried to influence the results of her tests in any way. She has denied being pressured. She is also the only person in the chain of custody who has ever been asked how the swabs that reached the forensic labs were contaminated/swapped.
What is interesting is that while Dr Saxena is part of the list of “relied upon witnesses”, she does not figure in the list of 13 witnesses the CBI fears might be influenced by Nupur Talwar if she was granted bail. The list of 13 is the basis on which it argued against bail for Nupur.
Rajesh Talwar’s t-shirt and shorts and Nupur Talwar’s night gown, the clothes they were wearing on the night of the murders, had also been examined by the CFSL. These were produced at in the trial court. Blood was found on these items and DNA generated that matched with Aarushi’s. The CBI has held that had the Talwars hugged their child when they found her murdered, there would have been much more blood on their clothes. Their witness said there were only “faint spots” of blood on the clothes and went on to speculate that this might have been either because there was only light contact with blood or that the clothes had “been washed”. His original report does not mention these possibilities.
Large cardboard boxes full of parcels containing articles examined by CFSL and other forensic labs crowded the courtroom. Out of them were produced several important exhibits, but the day was made interesting not just by what was produced, but also by was not.
The pillow cover recovered from one-time suspect Krishna’s room in the Talwars’ neighbour’s home that contained blood on it remained under seal at the request of the defence. This is a vital piece of evidence for the defence and will come into play as the trial progresses.
There was also the macabre palm print on the piece of terrace wall, which contained Hemraj’s blood. This made an appearance only in photographs. The prosecution said it was too heavy to haul to court (about 150 kg, according to its counsel).
This piece of evidence was also never physically sent to the CDFD for further testing for the same reason: weight. The Hyderabad laboratory had to depend on the sample collected off it at CFSL, to run its own tests. The CBI says the sample is “exhausted”. This refers to what the CFSL collected. The actual piece of concrete with the bloody print is in storage somewhere in the CGO complex, Delhi, where both the CBI and the CFSL have its offices.
Dr Mohapatra’s cross-examination begins on Thrusday.
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The mystery of the bloody pillow cover
The forensic expert's puzzling testimony
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 firstname.lastname@example.org