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Indian dentist couple handed life sentence for killing daughter

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian court sentenced a dentist couple to life in prison on Tuesday for the murder of their 14-year-old daughter and a Nepalese servant five years ago, concluding a sensational trial that has sharply divided public opinion.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's federal detective agency, had sought the death penalty for Rajesh and Nupur Talwar.

The couple will appeal against the guilty verdict handed down by the same local court on Monday.

Their daughter Aarushi was found with her throat slit at the family home in Noida, an affluent town of new shopping malls and offices near Delhi, in 2008. Suspicion fell on family servant Hemraj, but his body was found at the property the next day.

Early in the investigation, police alleged Rajesh had murdered Aarushi and Hemraj in a rage after finding them in a compromising situation.

It was the kind of crime more often associated with rural parts of India where "honor killings" are not uncommon than with a successful, middle class family living near the capital - helping to explain the huge interest it has generated.

The Talwars deny the murder and blame sensational media coverage for demonizing them and damaging their defense.

The initial police investigation was widely criticized, prompting the CBI to take over the case. It based its prosecution largely on circumstantial evidence, but said it was enough to prove that the couple had committed the crime.

The Talwars' lawyers highlighted the lack of hard evidence. One of them, Rebecca John, told the CNN-IBN news channel: "This is nothing but a witch hunt."

(Reporting by Malini Menon; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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