Sooraj Kumar and his wife Uthra. File photo
A court in the Indian state of Kerala on Wednesday awarded double life imprisonment to a man convicted of killing his wife with snakebite in May last year.
A man in the Indian state of Kerala who used a cobra and a viper to murder his wife was sentenced to double life imprisonment on Wednesday in what prosecutors called the "rarest of rare" cases. The Kollam additional district sessions court judge M Manoj also slapped a fine of Rs5 million (Dhs250,000).
Sooraj Kumar, 28, was throwing a starving cobra on his wife, Uthra, 25, who was sleeping with him and their one-year-old child to induce a homicidal snakebite.
It was the first case in India where a man getting punished for murder using an animal. In the previous two cases, the court had acquitted the defendants as their guilt could not be established.
In the Uthra case, considered as a specimen for criminal investigation studies, the police cracked it using a dummy reptile and recreating the entire crime scene.
Sooraj pleaded not guilty but police said his phone records showed he was in touch with snake handlers and had watched snake videos on the internet before the killing in March last year in Kollam in the southern state of Kerala.
"The mode of execution and the diabolic plan of the accused to murder Uthra, his wife who was bedridden, makes it (the case) fall into the category of rarest of rare," said the public prosecutor, who had sought the death penalty.
The homemaker was already undergoing treatment for snakebite while he planned the murder at her parents’ home in the southern district of Kollam.
Relatives of Uthra said she was sleeping with her husband and son when she suffered the snakebite. She was dead when he brought her body to the hospital in the morning.
The relatives grew suspicious as she had suffered a near-fatal snakebite, from a viper, at his home two months before. He continued to harass her demanding more dowry.
They found a cobra under the cot on which she had slept in an air-conditioned room with all its windows closed. It was difficult for a snake to get into this tiled room.
Later, a snake charmer admitted to the police that he had sold two snakes to Sooraj for Rs10,000 and taught him how to handle the limbless reptiles.
"They killed my daughter for money. I had given her 90 sovereigns of gold (worth around Rs3.1 million),” her father Vijayasenan said.
"I had given him a lot of money but he’s never satisfied and continued to demand more.”
In his complaint, he had said Sooraj had come with a heavy bag to his home on May 6. Police later found that he learnt how to handle snakes to commit the crime and he used to demand money from her parents. On both occasions of snakebites, Sooraj was near his wife.
Before the double life sentence, he needs to undergo 10 and 7 years of imprisonment in other cases of causing hurt by means of poison and destroying evidence.
Manimekhala, the mother of the victim, said she was not satisfied with the verdict as she expecting a death sentence. She is planning to appeal to a higher court against the verdict.
The court considered his age and absence of criminal background for a lower degree of punishment. Some lawyers also expressed surprise at the lower quantum of the sentence saying it was a fit case for awarding death sentence.
T Asaf Ali, Kerala’s former director-general of the prosecution alleged that the state’s lawyers had failed to convince the court of the gravity of the crime.
He cited instances of politicians in power releasing killers after undergoing a few years in jail and committing similar crimes again.
"A young person with such a criminal mind is a big threat to society in general and he shouldn’t be spared,” he told the Gulf Today. "The trial court failed to uphold the spirit of judgments of upper courts in such cases. It’s such a heinous crime that you cannot imagine in a civilised society.”
Justifying his argument for capital punishment, he points out that the court had found it as the rarest of the rare case but exempted him from noose considering his age.
The police had filed a 1,000-page charge sheet describing how he planned the murder and implemented it. He had admitted to having bought two snakes stored them in a jar without feeding them with the intention of killing his wife.
G Mohanraj, who led the prosecution, had urged for a death sentence to be awarded to the accused arguing that it fulfilled the criteria of being the rarest of rare cases.
He also asserted that such a sentence was in the public interest considering the gravity of the offence and that he had never sought a death sentence before for any case.
Their marriage involved a big dowry including a new car and Rs500,000 (around $20,000). According to media reports, Sooraj's family was charged with conspiracy after some of Uthra's gold was found buried near Sooraj's home days after the murder.
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