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US legal officer mistakenly addresses slain Indian techie Kuchibhotla as ‘Sikh’

A US Navy veteran was last week awarded three consecutive life sentences on federal hate crime charges for killing Kuchibhotla and wounding two others at a suburban Kansas City bar last year

world Updated: Aug 12, 2018 18:35 IST
Kuchibhotla,slain Indian engineer,Kansas
In this undated photo provided by Kranti Shalia, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, right, poses for photo with his wife Sunayana Dumala in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP)

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has erroneously referred to Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot dead in a hate crime at a suburban Kansas City bar last year, as a Sikh.

A US Navy veteran was last week awarded three consecutive life sentences on federal hate crime charges for killing Kuchibhotla and wounding two others at a suburban Kansas City bar last year.

Adam Purinton of Olathe shot and killed 32-year-old Kuchibhotla, and wounded two others – Indian national Alok Madasani and Kansas resident Ian Grillot – at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe, Kansas, in February 2017.

Sessions, America’s top law enforcement official said this while addressing the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Summit on Religious Liberty on August 8, a day after Purinton was awarded three consecutive life sentences.

“Yesterday, we obtained a life sentence for a man who murdered an Indian-American man, a Sikh as it turned out, because he thought he was a Muslim,” Sessions said in his remarks at the summit.

“This is the kind of horrible things we do not need to allow in this country,” Sessions added in his speech, the video of which is available online.

While Sessions did not name Kuchibhotla, the reference was to the August 7 sentencing of Purinton when he was handed down three consecutive life terms for killing the Hyderabad native.

The mistake of wrongly identifying Kuchibhotla as a Sikh was pointed out by PTI here to the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs.

Later, an official from the public affairs office, responding to PTI’s email seeking comment on the error, said that an updated speech has been uploaded on the Department of Justice’s website. In the updated version of Sessions’ remarks, the error has been rectified.

The updated version of Sessions’ remarks removed the Sikh reference and now states that “yesterday, we obtained a life sentence for a man who murdered an Indian-American man because he thought he was Muslim.”

It mentions at the end of the remarks that “The original version of this speech mistakenly identified the victim of a hate crime as Sikh.”

Kuchibhotla hailed from Hyderabad and had worked at Garmin as a senior aviation systems engineer in Kansas. He and Madasani were sitting in the Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe when Purinton approached them and demanded to know where they were from and how they entered the country. Purinton poked Kuchibhotla in the chest, called him a “terrorist” and an epithet disparaging persons of Middle Eastern descent, and shouted, “Get out of my country!”

Aiming at Kuchibhotla and Madasani, Purinton had fired eight rounds from his semi-automatic pistol, at least four of which struck Kuchibhotla, who died from his injuries, and one of which struck Madasani, who was injured. Hours after the shooting, Purinton stated over the phone to a friend, and later in person to a bartender, that he had just killed some “Iranians.”

In his remarks, Sessions also said the Department is aggressively enforcing the country’s civil rights laws, hate crimes laws, and laws protecting churches and faith groups.

Since January 2017, the Department obtained 11 indictments and eight convictions in cases involving arson or other attacks or threats against houses of worship. The Civil Rights Division has also obtained 13 indictments in other attacks or threats against people because of their religion.

“And we are not slowing down. Three weeks ago, we obtained a jury verdict against a man who set fire to a mosque in Texas and a man from Missouri for threatening to kill members of a mosque,” he said.

First Published: Aug 12, 2018 18:31 IST