Uthra Murder Case: Husband sentenced to life imprisonment with Rs. 5 lakh fine for killing wife by inducing a snakebite from a Cobra: Additional Sessions Court, Kollam, Kerala

On May 07, 2020, Uthra, the wife of Suraj, a housewife, was found dead at her house in Anchal, Kerala due to an alleged snakebite. Although the initial speculation was pointing towards it being a natural snakebite, the passage of time allowed the family of the deceased to believe that the snakebite was not natural. The family held that the deceased was repeatedly harassed by her husband and his family for dowry; additionally, they held that it would be implausible for a snake to enter a sealed and tiled room, a room with closed air-conditioning. It is worth mentioning that the accused claimed that the snake entered the room via an open window. It is worth noting that nine weeks before the aforementioned incident, the deceased had suffered from another near-fatal snakebite from a viper. The husband was immediately arrested owing to the known fact that the accused married the deceased for financial reasons alone and the police filed charges against the accused two months after his arrest to outline the criminal conspiracy premeditated and implemented by the accused under Sections 302 (Murder), 307 (Attempt to Murder), 328 (Causing Hurt by means of Poison with an intention to commit an offence) and 201 (Causing Disappearance of Evidence of Offence to screen the Offender) under the Indian Penal Code, 1860; however, it became difficult to prove the occurrence of the incident. The co-accused, Suresh, the handler and seller of the snake, revealed that he sold the two snakes for Rs. 10,000 to the accused, wherein the co-accused plead that he did not know the reason and purpose of the said purchase.

In the course of the police-led investigation, the accused confessed to storing the snakes in a plastic jar whilst starving them with an ulterior intention of using the starved snakes to kill the deceased. The family of the accused, his father, mother and his sister, were arrested as co-conspirators of the crime owing to the fact that they took thirty-eight gold ornaments from the deceased and hid them under their rubber plantation. The case was presided over by Justice M. Manoj of the Kollam Additional District and Sessions Court, wherein the judge pronounced the accused guilty of throwing a starving snake on his sleeping wife with an intention to cause grievous harm to his wife; this position was solidified by the testimony of an expert snake handler, wherein he held that the snakebite marks of the fangs on the body of the deceased were not natural, rather they were unnaturally induced.

The court called the testimonies from herpetologists, forensic medicine experts, veterinarians and expert officials from the State Department of Forest and Animal Husbandry. The police team asked the State Training Institute of the State Forestry Department to perform a dummy experiment using scientific methods to recreate the incident where the accused held the head of the snake to incite it to bite the deceased. The guilt of the accused was proved in the dummy experiment where a King Cobra of approximately the same weight as the cobra used by the accused to allegedly commit the crime was bought close to a dummy of the same weight as the deceased, wherein a piece of chicken was tied to the wrist of the dummy. The snake was allowed to naturally bite the piece of chicken; subsequently, the authorities held the head of the snake to induce a snakebite on the piece of chicken. The distance between the fang marks of the two induced snakebites on the body of the deceased measured 2.5 and 2.8 centimetres respectively while the distance between the fang marks of a natural snakebite stands at 1.7 centimetres during the dummy experiment; additionally, when the head of the snake was caught while inducing a snakebite, the snakebite measured 2.4 centimetres; hence, the experiment proved beyond reasonable doubt that the bite marks on the body of the deceased were consistent with the induced bite marks on the body of the dummy. The autopsy of the snake revealed that it was starved for seven days prior to the day of the incident; additionally, the course of the investigation revealed that the accused was in the same room in front of the deceased whilst she was being bitten by the said snake.

The prosecution led by Advocate G. Mohanraj presented scientific and circumstantial pieces of evidence in front of the judge, wherein the judge found the accused guilty of planning and executing the murder of his wife. The sentencing for the offence was scheduled for October 13, 2021. In the case of The State of Kerala v. Sooraj S. Kumar, Justice M. Manoj remarked at the peculiar nature of the crime of throwing a starving snake on his sleeping wife in order to induce a snakebite; additionally, the court remarked at a previous attempt by the accused in March 2020 when the accused threw a starving viper on his sleeping wife. The second attempt by the accused in killing his wife by the bite of a cobra was successful since the wife received a lethal dose of venom from the snakebite.

The judge sentenced the accused with a punishment of life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs. 5 lakh.

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