In a first-of-its-kind case in Kerala, man accused of murdering wife by getting her bitten by snake
When Uthra, a 25-year-old differently abled woman, was found dead due to snakebite, there were murmurs about a ‘sarppa kopam’ among locals. The young homemaker had sustained a near-fatal bite on March 2, 2020 and her life was claimed by another snake on May 7, while she was recovering from the initial attack. She was first bitten by a viper and then a cobra, the two incidents separated by nearly nine weeks. Uthra was found dead at her home in Anchal and the cobra that killed her was also spotted there. But her family was not ready to dismiss the incident as a natural snakebite death and alleged foul play. A police investigation followed, and the chargesheet gave details of a conspiracy, pointing to a murder painstakingly planned and executed by her husband Sooraj. Sooraj was arrested on May 24, along with Suresh, a Kalluvathukkal resident who helped him procure both the snakes. The handler, who later turned approver, said he sold the snakes for ₹10,000.
As per her family, Uthra had been facing harassment from her husband and his family. They said it was impossible for the snake to enter a closed, air-conditioned room with tiled floor. When Uthra was bitten by a viper at Sooraj’s house in Adoor, she was given painkillers and Sooraj did not take her to hospital immediately. She was brought to a private hospital in an unconscious state the next day and she remained there till April 22. The second incident took place a couple of weeks after her discharge from the hospital. Her father Vijayasenan believed that Uthra was murdered for gold and property. Sooraj had married Uthra in March 2018 and the couple had a one-year-old son when she died. He was handed over to Uthra’s parents as per the instruction of District Child Welfare Committee.
During interrogation, Sooraj confessed to his crime and admitted that he bought both the snakes with the intention of killing his wife. He stored the snakes in a jar without food and threw them on Uthra while she was asleep. The investigating team also found that Sooraj was researching on how to induce a snakebite for quite some time and his web history showed a volley of pages related to snakes.
Later, the Crime Branch special team arrested Sooraj’s father Surendran, mother and sister and recovered around 38 sovereigns of Uthra’s gold that was buried in a rubber estate behind her husband’s home. They were booked under various sections of Indian Penal Code for conspiracy, domestic violence and destruction of evidence.
Kollam Crime Branch (Rural Police) had filed a 1,000-page chargesheet in the case before Punalur Chief Judicial Magistrate Court on August 14. While Dy.SP A. Ashokan led the investigation, G. Mohanraj was appointed the special prosecutor. A first-of-its-kind case in Kerala, the prosecution went for strong scientific and circumstantial evidence during the trial. The Kollam Additional Sessions Court will pronounce the verdict in the case on Monday.
The postmortem of the snake was conducted to prove that it was the one that bit Uthra. A dummy trial recreating the incident was also carried out to find the difference in fang width when the bite is induced. Snake-handler Vava Suresh had testified before the court that the snakebite that caused Uthra’s death did not seem natural.
The scientific evidence submitted before the court was collected with the help of a team comprising herpetologists, forensic experts, veterinary surgeons and officials from the Forest and Animal Husbandry departments.
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