Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s killer pleads guilty to hate crime
Purinton was facing death for the hate crime charges, brought against him by the federal government, but is expected to be sentenced for life under the guilty plea agreement. Sentencing in the case is scheduled for June 2.
Purinton, a white US navy veteran who turned 53 on Monday, admitted that he had shot Kuchibhotla and his friend Alok Madasani, “attempting to kill both men, because of their race, colour, religion, and national origin”, the office of US attorney for Kansas said in a statement.
He was sentenced to life on May 5 for murdering Kuchibhotla and attempting to murder Madasani and a local man Ian Grillot on state charges brought against him by local authorities.
Kuchibhotla’s widow Sunayana Dumala, who did not attend the court hearing, said in a statement, “Today’s change in the federal hate crime case against the murderer of my husband Srinu is a significant step to putting an end to hate crimes committed against people of colour and from different cultures”
“The actions of the court today send a strong message that hate is never acceptable,” she said.
Purinton had earlier pleaded not guilty to hate crime charges but had subsequently changed his plea to guilty, which was announced in court on Monday.
“Although Purinton has already been convicted of murder in the State of Kansas, and sentenced to life in prison, today’s plea in federal court speaks to his motive,” said FBI Kansas City Special Agent in Charge Darrin Jones. “By his agreement to today’s plea, Purinton acknowledges that his actions were motivated by his hatred of the victims’ race, religion, colour and national origin. This type of hatred will never be tolerated.”
The murder had sent shockwaves through the US, India and the rest of the world, with many linking it to the surge in ethnic and racial tensions and xenophobia in the aftermath of the election of President Donald Trump, who had taken office barely a month before the shooting.
Kuchibhotla and Madasani, who were colleagues at Garmin GPS company, were having after-work drinks at a bar in Olathe, Kansas on the evening of February 22, 2017, when Purinton walked up to them and demanded to know where they were from and how they entered the United States.
Poking Kuchibhotla in the chest, he called him a “terrorist” and an epithet used to disparage people from West Asia, before yelling at the pair to “get out of my country”.
Grillot and another patron escorted Purinton out. But he returned shortly with a pistol and fired at least eight rounds, federal prosecutors said, hitting Kuchibhotla four times, and Madasani once.
While leaving he shot Grillot, wounding him.
He later told a friend and a bartender he had shot two Iranians.
Acting associate attorney general Jesse Panuccio said in a statement, “The defendant (had) embarked on a murderous rampage with clear premeditation to kill on the basis of race, colour, religion, and national origin.”
There were some new details in the federal case that proved “premeditation” on Purinton’s part. Weeks before the shooting, Purinton had told another patron at the bar, pointing to Kuchibhotla and Madasani, “Did you see the terrorists on the patio?” He was told then that they were from India, and were not terrorists, according to the Kansas City Star.
On the fateful day, after being escorted out for harassing the two friends and yelling at them, Purinton went home. He picked up his semi-automatic pistol and then, in signs that establish planning and premeditation, he changed into a different dress and picked up a scarf to disguise his identity.