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How to prove a crime when murder weapon is a snake? Here is how SIT nailed Kerala man who killed his wife with a cobra

Suraj had wanted to get rid of Uthra without having to go through divorce. His parents have also been held guilty for dowry harassment.

A court in Kerala’s Kollam convicted a man on Monday for murdering his wife by letting loose a cobra on her. Adding that it was a heinous crime, the court said that the convict did not deserve any sympathy.

The prosecution has sought capital punishment for P Suraj (32) of Kollam district who has been found guilty under the Indian Penal Code’s Sections 302 (murder), 328 (administering a drug to harm), 307 (attempt to murder), and 201 (destroying evidence).

The trial was completed in 17 months. The investigating team adopted a scientific approach as there were no eyewitnesses to the murder. The SIT has been praised by authorities for its thorough investigation and scientific approach. The prosecution has sought capital punishment for Suraj.

‘My daughter has been murdered’

The state of Kerala records thousands of snakebite cases every year.

On May 06, 2020, Uthra had succumbed to snakebite at Anchal, Kollam. Uthra had suffered a cobra bite when she was already under treatment for another prior snakebite. Her death had made her family suspicious. Her father Vijayasena had approached the police after his daughter’s death and met S. Harisankar who was the then rural SP of Kollam.

He informed the police that his daughter had sustained the first bite on March 02, 2020, that is two months before her death. On February 28, a viper snake was found beneath the staircase at their home.

After the second snakebite that led to his daughter’s death in May, he requested an investigation. On May 07, the police filed a case of unnatural death. Harisankar in a statement to the media said, “There were several factors that led us to the preliminary assumption that it was not a case of an accidental snakebite.”

Uthra gets bitten twice 

Sharing more information, Harisankar said, “We had reasons to doubt that it was a well-planned and well-executed murder. We discussed the matter with several experts in veterinary science and herpetology. Some of the factors sounded strange.”

Reportedly, Uthra was first bitten by a viper in the bedroom located on the first floor of Suraj’s (Uthra’s husband) house on March 02, 2020. However, this raised suspicions during the investigation as ‘a Russell’s viper (a terrestrial species) is rarely found in such places.’

Uthra was again bitten by a cobra on the night of May 06, 2020, when she was asleep. This too did not fit the ‘accidental death’ theory as a cobra is generally active between 5 and 8 pm. “It is highly unusual for cobras to be active late at night,” Harisankar said.

Additionally, the doors and windows of the room were also shut as Uthra had switched on the air conditioner that night. “So the entry of the snake could not be rationally explained,” the officer said. 

Investigation revealed forced bite marks

As the investigation progressed, it was observed that two puncture wounds in close proximity, 2.3cm and 2.5cm deep were found in the post mortem. However, scientific studies show that the Indian cobra’s fang marks are not more than 2cm deep. 

“Punctures wounds caused by two successive bites should be of similar depth. The variation (0.5cm) shows force was possibly used. If an external force is applied on the head of the cobra, that would cause the fang to penetrate deeper,” informed Harisankar further who concluded that the bites were not natural, but induced by someone skilled in handling snakes. 

A test conducted by forensic experts on the cobra that was clubbed to death established that the reptile was kept in a plastic bottle found in the house. As per the reports, the DNA from the scales found inside the bottle matched with the DNA of the dead cobra.

Experts from veterinary science, forensic medicine, herpetology, cyber forensics, DNA fingerprinting and even pharmacology were brought together to investigate the matter. The investigating team also performed an experiment with a live snake and a dummy ‘victim’ to confirm the ‘forced bite’ theory.

Autopsy of the snake had also found that it was starved for a week at least to make it more aggressive.  

Uthra was being harassed for dowry

A history of domestic violence and dowry harassment unearthed during the investigation shifted the needle of suspicion towards Uthra’s husband Suraj. 

Suraj who had a passion for wildlife and had been a member of wildlife clubs was at home when both incidents of snakebites occurred. 

The investigation further led the police to a man named Chavarukavu Suresh, from Kalluvathukkal in Kollam who knew Suraj. Suresh revealed to the police that Suraj had purchased two venomous snakes, one viper and one cobra from him on dates corresponding to the snakebites.

Suraj was then immediately picked up by the police who broke down and confessed to his crime. 

Suraj wanted to get rid of Uthra without divorce

Suraj had married Uthra, who had a mild disability in the greed of extorting a good sum of money as dowry. Soon he started to look for ways to get rid of his wife without having to undergo a divorce that would have hurt him financially. 

He then planned to eliminate her using snakes as it could have easily been passed off as an accident. 

Suraj sedated Uthra after a failed first attempt

In the first attempt, Suraj had dropped the viper on Uthra while she was asleep. However, Uthra immediately woke up and screamed for help. Suraj was left with no option but to take her to the hospital and Uthra survived the first snakebite. 

Making no mistakes in the second attempt, Suraj sedated her with a sleep-inducing medicine mixed with fruit juice to ensure she does not wake up from sleep. 

This time he succeeded. “Cobra venom is neurotoxic in character. It attacks the central nervous system, leaving the chance of survival quite low,” Harisankar said.

The cyber forensic analysis done on Suraj’s mobile phone revealed that he watched several videos and read literature to learn the behaviour of snakes.

Police chief congratulated SIT

Kerala Police chief Anil Kant lauded the Special Investigation Team (SIT), which probed the case, for its scientific approach to the investigation and for ensuring justice to the victim’s family. 

It is a shining example of how scientific methods can be applied to crack a murder mystery. The team led by S Harishankar did an excellent job,” Kant remarked. 

Satisfied with the verdict, Uthra’s father said, “I am happy finally my daughter got justice. We expect maximum punishment for Suraj. We pray no other parents should undergo our experience.” 

It is notable here that Suraj’s parents have also been held guilty of dowry harassment. They had filed a counter-complaint against Uthra’s brother in an attempt to derail the investigation.

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