Kerala man who let loose cobra on his wife convicted of murder

Updated on Oct 12, 2021 05:58 AM IST

During the autopsy of the dead cobra, it was also found that it was starved for a week to make it more aggressive

The convict’s wife suffered a fatal bite at her home while she was undergoing treatment for another snake bite she suffered a couple of months ago. (HT Photo)
The convict’s wife suffered a fatal bite at her home while she was undergoing treatment for another snake bite she suffered a couple of months ago. (HT Photo)

A court in Kerala’s Kollam on Monday convicted a man of murdering his wife by letting loose a cobra on her when she was sleeping, and forcing it to bite her, saying the convict did not deserve any sympathy for this heinous crime. It relied on the findings of a test with a snake that showed the difference between natural and induced bite marks.

The prosecution sought capital punishment for P Sooraj, 32 a resident of Kollam; the additional sessions court is due to pronounce the quantum of punishment on Wednesday. Sooraj was found guilty under the Indian Penal Code’s Sections 302 (murder), 328 (administering a drug to harm), 307 (attempt to murder), and 201 (destroying evidence).

Uthra, his 25-year-old wife, suffered a fatal bite at her home while she was undergoing treatment for another snake bite she suffered. It emerged during the investigation that the incident, involving a viper, was also orchetrated by the husband. She managed to recover from the first bite, but could not survive the second.

Her parents lauded the verdict. “I am happy finally my daughter got justice. We expect maximum punishment for Sooraj. We pray no other parents should undergo our experience,” said Uthra’s father, Rajasenan, who was present in the court.

Sooraj kept quiet when judge M Manoj asked him whether he wanted to say something.

Kerala Police chief Anil Kant congratulated the Special Investigation Team (SIT), which probed the case, for its scientific approach to the investigation and for ensuring the conviction. “It is a shining example of how scientific methods can be applied to crack a murder mystery. The team led by S Harishankar did an excellent job,” he said.

The trial was completed within 17 months. There was no eyewitness or direct circumstantial evidence in the case. SIT relied on scientific and technical evidence to nail the culprit. It conducted the test with a snake to show the difference between natural and induced bite marks.

“In natural (accidental) bite, marks will spread to 1.7 to 1.8 cm but in Uthra’s case, it was 2.3 to 2.8 cm. That surely showed pressure was induced on the cobra,” said Harishankar. He said during the autopsy of the dead snake, it was also found that it was starved for a week to make it more aggressive. He added that traces of sleeping pills were also found in Uthra’s intestine. Sooraj later admitted to having mixed sleeping pills with juice on the day she was bitten.

Harishankar called it a well-planned and executed murder. “We also found that he searched the Internet for months together to study snake handling and homicidal snake bites.”

The case surfaced in May last year after Uthra’s parents filed a police complaint two days after her death alleging Sooraj and his family members harassed their daughter for dowry. The couple had been married for two years at the time of the murder.

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In an attempt to mislead investigators, Sooraj’s parents filed a counter-complaint against Uthra’s brother saying he wanted to usurp her father’s property.

During the probe, SIT found a local snake handler Suresh, who later turned an approver. He admitted to training Sooraj to handle the snake, and even providing him with the reptile. On May 6, 2020, after Uthra fell asleep, Sooraj allegedly threw the snake on her. He also provoked it to bite her twice. He then remained awake all night to ensure that the snake did not bite him and went out as usual in the morning. Uthra was later rushed to a nearby hospital, but it was too late.

During the investigation, SIT found Sooraj was planning to marry again. His parents were also charged with dowry harassment and the destruction of evidence. SIT reconstructed the murder scene using a dummy. A video of this that was submitted in the court played a crucial role in the case, said prosecutor G Mohanraj. “It was a macabre crime quite unheard of. It was a well-planned and thought-out crime, and all evidence was strong that is why we sought capital punishment.”

The video shows the cobra trying to bite the dummy of the woman lying on the bed after it was provoked. When it was natural, the bite was 1.7 to 1. 8 cm wide. But when pressure was inserted on the head, the bite was 2.3 to 2.8 cm. Scientific evidence submitted before the court was collected with the help of herpetologists, forensic experts, forest officials, and snake handlers.

Uthra’s parents told investigators that her in-laws frequently harassed her for more dowry. They said they gave 90 sovereigns of gold, 5 lakh cash, and a car to them.

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    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

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