Indian couple to be sentenced over daughter's murder

Indian couple to be sentenced over daughter's murder
Dentists Rajesh Talwar and wife Nupur are taken to court in Ghaziabad

GHAZIABAD, India - An Indian dentist couple face being sentenced to death Tuesday after they were convicted of slitting the throats of their teenage daughter and domestic servant in a case that transfixed the nation.

Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were found guilty on Monday of murdering Aarushi, 14, and Nepalese domestic servant Hemraj Banjade at their home in an affluent New Delhi suburb in May 2008.

Their conviction was the latest dramatic twist in the long-running case that has been awash with sexual rumour and charges of police bungling and media bias.

Sentencing submissions will begin in a hearing to open Tuesday, but prosecutor R.K. Saini has refused to say whether he will seek the death penalty which is only imposed in the "rarest of rare cases."

"The penalty is life imprisonment or death - there are only two sentences," Saini told reporters after the conviction, outside the court in Ghaziabad, a satellite city just outside the capital Security was tight around the court complex ahead of the hearing.

Investigators allege the Talwars killed Aarushi in a fit of rage after finding her with the 45-year-old servant in an "objectionable position", suggesting the double-murder was a so-called honour killing.

The couple, successful, middle-class dentists, broke down in tears after being found guilty, but vowed to appeal, insisting they were victims of police incompetence and a media witchhunt.

The trial came as India increasingly focuses on violent crime against women following the fatal gang-rape of a student in Delhi last year that sparked outrage over the country's treatment of women.

The case has also raised awkward questions about the relationship between wealthy Indian families and the poor, often-migrant servants who cook, clean and look after their every need at home.

Local newspapers, which have covered every twist and turn in the case, plastered the guilty verdict on their front pages Tuesday.

"MURDERERS!" said the tabloid Daily Mail over a picture of the distressed couple.

Aarushi, whom friends described as a chirpy, high-achieving student, was found on her bed with her throat cut one morning in May 2008.

Police initially blamed the missing domestic servant Hemraj - only to find his decomposing body on the roof a day later with a similar cut and head wounds.

Officers then arrested Rajesh Talwar's dental assistant and two other local servants - Hemraj's friends - but they were freed for lack of evidence.

The botched probe - police failed to seal the crime scene or to find the second body for over 24 hours - prompted investigators to close the case in 2010, citing "critical and substantial gaps" in the evidence.

The Talwars insisted they wanted the killers found and petitioned the court to reopen the case - only to be charged with murder themselves.

Top criminal lawyer Rebecca John said she would appeal the verdict and "not rest until this couple's names are cleared."

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