A man has been handed a double life sentence for murdering his disabled wife by throwing a cobra at her while she was asleep. The court that gave the verdict in the southern state of Kerala, India has described the murder as “diabolical, cruel, heinous and dastardly.”
According to prosecution lawyers, Sooraj Kumar killed his wife, Uthra, for her gold jewellery and wanted to marry another woman. This was Kumar’s third attempt to murder his wife, they said. In March last year, Kumar allegedly set a viper to bite Uthra while she was staying with her in-laws. Uthra survived after being hospitalized for two months. Kumar reportedly sedated Uthra before exposing her to the snakes both times.
During the trial, the challenge for prosecutors was to prove that the accused had deliberately plotted and staged the snake attack. “The prosecution had to establish that Uthra was killed by the cobra, its bite was not natural, and it was planted by her husband. Since the crime took place inside a closed room with no witness, we had to build the case on scientific and circumstantial evidence,” special prosecutor G. Mohanraj told The Hindu.
For this, the prosecution panel presented the court with a test depicting the difference between natural and induced snakebites. Police investigations proved crucial, too. Investigators hired snake experts and reconstructed the murder scene by letting loose a cobra on a dummy to study induced bite marks. Police looked into Kumar’s online search history and found that he had been viewing YouTube videos on how to handle snakes.
The court sentenced Kumar to a 17-year prison term in addition to the two life sentences for murder, attempt to murder, causing hurt by poison and for tampering with evidence. The court also imposed a fine equivalent to $6,635.
Kumar was arrested in May 2020 after Uthra was found dead in a bedroom she was sharing with him and their young child on a visit to her parents’ house. Uthra was still recuperating from the earlier snakebite when she died.
Kumar claimed that the snake had crept in through an open window of the air-conditioned room. Doubting this story, Uthra’s parents called for a police investigation, which revealed that Kumar had withdrawn gold ornaments from his and his wife’s joint bank account a week prior to her death. According to Uthra’s parents, the couple had a difficult relationship, and Kumar regularly harassed his wife over her jewellery and her wedding dowry. Kumar hails from a middle class background while Uthra belonged to a wealthy family.
A police officer investigating the case told Indian Express that Kumar purchased the cobra on April 24 and kept it hidden in his house. On the night of the murder, Kumarthe accused went to his in-laws’ house with the cobra hidden in a bottle. Police found that Kumar had established close ties to snake handlers and had hired them twice to get access to snakes. One snake handler was arrested for supplying Kumar with the snakes.
Although the prosecution had initially argued for the death penalty, citing it as “the rarest of the rare cases,” the court rejected its argument.
And it seems the case isn’t that rare after all.
On Oct. 6, the Supreme Court denied bail to a Rajasthan woman accused of killing her mother-in-law using a venomous snake. “This is a new trend, that people bring poisonous snakes from snake charmers and kill a person through snake bite,” the court said.
In 2011, a man in Nagpur city was accused of killing his father and his stepmother by setting a cobra upon them.
Snake bites – unintentional ones – are a fairly common cause of death in India. According to a study released last year, an average of 58,000 people in India died from snakebites annually from 2009 to 2019, mostly in rural areas.
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