Life in jail for using cobra to kill wife

An Indian man who used a cobra and a viper to murder his wife was sentenced to life in jail on Wednesday in what prosecutors called the "rarest of rare" cases.

Sooraj Kumar set loose a highly venomous Russell's viper on his wife Uthra that left her in hospital for almost two months, prosecutors said.

While she recovered at her parents' house, the 28-year-old husband obtained a cobra from a snake handler and threw it at his sleeping wife.

Its poisonous bite killed the 25-year-old woman.

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, Kerala.

Sooraj stayed in the room with Uthra after the cobra bit her and went about his morning routine the next day when alerted by the woman's mother, said prosecutors.

"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.

Snake handler Vavarukavu Suresh said it was possible that Sooraj had "inflicted pain on the reptile to provoke it to bite", the Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.

Ms Uthra, who had disabilities, was from an affluent family but her husband, a bank worker, was not well off.

The dead woman's parents became suspicious after Sooraj tried to take control of her property after her death.

Their marriage involved a big dowry including a new car and Rs5 lakh ($8,955).

According to media reports, Sooraj's family was charged with conspiracy after some of Ms Uthra's gold was found buried near Sooraj's home days after the murder.

Initially, Ms Uthra's family treated her death as accidental, caused by snake bites as her body had turned blue. But, later, while searching her room, her brother Vishnu found a cobra which was killed.

Neighbours and relatives sympathised with the family as she had just recovered from a snake bite at her husband's home on March 2, which had left her bedridden for 52 days.

The next day the local newspapers published her obituary as death by snakebite. The case would not have attracted police scrutiny as there was no suspicious circumstances to suspect a murder.

Ms Uthra's father Vijaysenan became suspicious when Sooraj and his parents showed no emotions during the funeral and seemed in a hurry to get the ceremonies done.

After a week, he lodged a complaint at the Anchal police station in Kollam saying he suspected foul play in his daughter's death.

He also informed the police that Ms Uthra had informed him that Sooraj was an expert in handling venomous snakes.

Kollam Rural Superintendent of Police (SP) S. Hari Sankar formed a special team under Crime Branch Deputy Superintendent of Police A. Ashokan to conduct a detailed investigation.

Sooraj then panicked and went into hiding. The police arrested him on May 23 along with Suresh, who sold two snakes to Sooraj for Rs10,000.

"We conducted a scientific investigation, did research on snakebite deaths and sought expert opinion to gather evidence in the case," said SP Hari Sankar. "It was complicated as there were no witnesses.

"Our team did a wonderful job in building up a strong case."

The police also conducted an autopsy and DNA tests on the cobra which bit Ms Uthra.

The crucial breakthrough came when snake experts informed the police that, in an accidental bite, cobras would leave marks of about 1.7cm; a forcefully done bite mark would leave 2.8cm long wounds.

The inquest report of Ms Uthra revealed that there were two bite marks of 2.5cm and 2.8cm on her body.

The investigation team conclusively proved that Sooraj had brought the cobra home in a bag and forced the snake to bite his wife twice to ensure her death.

He also stole her gold jewellery from a bank locker after her death.

AFP

"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."

- The public prosecutor

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