The Allahabad High Court on Thursday acquitted Nupur and Rajesh Talwar in the 2008 murders of their teenage daughter Aarushi and domestic help Hemraj, saying that neither the circumstances nor the evidence was enough to hold them guilty.
The 263-page verdict ends, at least for now, the nine- year ordeal of the Noida couple who were sentenced to life by a Ghaziabad CBI court on November 28, 2013 for the double murder that not only transfixed but also shook the nation with its element of filicide.
But the bizzare mystery endured about who killed them.
"There is a strong possibility that incident was caused by some outsider," a bench comprising justices B.K. Narayana and A.K. Mishra said, upholding the Talwars' appeal against the CBI court verdict.
The Talwars, who are both dentists, are expected to be freed on Friday from Ghaziabad's Dasna jail after the completion of paperwork. The CBI did not immediately say if it would appeal against the high court judgement. It said it would study the order and decide the future course of action.
Pronouncing their verdict in a packed court room, justices Narayana and Mishra said, "From the facts and evidence on record, we find neither the circumstances nor evidence are consistent and circumstances did not complete a chain showing involvement of appellants in the incident."
They said, "In case where two views are possible, the view taken for conviction of appellants may not be correct. In the absence of circumstancial evidence to complete the chain, it is a fit case where benefit of doubt can be given to the appellants."
B.G. Chitnis, Nupur Talwar's father, said, "I am grateful to the judiciary for the verdict."
A former Group Captain in the Indian Air Force, Chitnis told reporters in New Delhi, "They have really suffered. They are emotionally drained. At my age it was very trying to see my daughter behind bars."
Vandana Talwar, an aunt of Aarushi who was 14 when she was killed, said, "It's been an exhausting journey for us. We are really grateful to the High Court for having aquitted and ending the injustice meted out to them."
The Talwars were arrested in May 2008. The CBI court convicted them on November 26, 2013. The high court had reserved its verdict on the appeals of the couple on September 7.
Filmmakers Vishal Bhardwaj and Meghna Gulzar in their critically acclaimed "Talvar" on the murder case, presented alternative narratives of what happened on the night of May 16, 2008, when Aarushi was found murdered in her Noida home.
The body of the Talwars' family help Hemraj was found several hours later.
"Justice delayed is NOT justice denied. Overwhelmed and deeply relieved upon hearing the news of the acquittal. #AarushiVerdict #Talwars," Bhardwaj tweeted.
Meghna said, "I did not do that film to tell the story of a particular side. Our intention all along was to see that all the versions of the case are out in the open. I think this is what has happened in this appeal. The facts and testimonies were examined very carefully and rationally."
The CBI court had relied on circumstantial evidence to convict the couple in the absence of any motive.
In his order, Additional Sessions Judge Shyam Lal has cited judgements of the Supreme Court to say that the mere fact that the prosecution had failed to "translate that mental disposition of the accused into evidence does not mean that no such mental condition existed in the mind of the assailant."
He said, "In a case of circumstantial evidence motive does not have extreme significance. In the absence of motive, the conviction based on circumstantial evidence can in principle be made."
Dadhiram Maurya, the jailor of the Dasna prison where the Talwars are lodged, said the couple felt they have got justice.
"After having breakfast they were praying. Their schedule was normal. She said they got justice today and had tears of joy.
"Any person after spending this amount of jail (time) will feel happy to get freedom. So they were happy after they were told about the news," he said.
Lawyer Rebecca John, who was part of Talwars' legal team, said she was relieved by the judgement. She claimed the whole case was based on "innuendos" and would "not have carried through".
John hoped that the Talwars, who have been in media spotlight for over nine years, will be allowed privacy after their release from the jail.
Aarushi was found dead inside her room in the Talwars' Noida residence with her throat slit in May 2008. The suspicion initially fell on 45-year-old Hemraj, who at the time was missing. But his body was recovered from the terrace of the house a day later.
As the Uttar Pradesh Police drew flak over shoddy investigation into the case which was making national headlines, the then chief minister Mayawati recommended a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.