Sooraj, the criminal mind behind Uthra’s murder, is serving jail time as we write this. The Kollam Additional Sessions Court awarded a double life sentence, excluding 17 years of imprisonment to Sooraj. He also has to pay a fine of ₹5 lakhs. There were talks of imposing capital punishment on the convict, but his lack of criminal history spoke in favour of him. Nonetheless, Uthra’s family will be able to live in peace knowing that justice has been served.
It was no mean feat for the Kerala police to identify whether Uthra’s death occurred due to an accidental snakebite or murder. But, scientific intervention, the involvement of herpetologists, zoologists, snake catchers, wildlife officials, and doing a mock trial leaned the case favourably towards murder.
Here’s what happened in the past year:
On May 6th 2020
According to Uthra’s mother Manimegalai, Sooraj and Uthra went off to sleep right after dinner. There was nothing unusual.
On May 7th 2020
Sooraj, who is usually a late sleeper, woke up early and headed out of the house. Uthra, however, didn’t wake up. Manimegalai, confused, asked Sooraj about Uthra casually, who told her that she was asleep.
The mother later went to check up on her daughter. She saw Uthra unconscious, with her mouth wide open. She called for medical services immediately. However, the doctors declared her dead upon arrival in the hospital. When Sooraj heard of his wife’s death due to a snakebite, his friend and he came home to find the snake under the cupboard. The snake was killed immediately.
(Initially, the grief-stricken family thought it was their daughter’s bad luck that lead to her death. Later on, they suspected foul play and shared their misgivings with the police.)
The investigation was conducted by Crime Branch Deputy Superintendent of Police, A Ashokan, along with the Kollam police.
The police sought the help of snake experts and wildlife experts to analyse the snakebite. There was also a team of veterinary doctors and surgeons who conducted an autopsy of the snake.
The snake identified was an Indian Cobra, also known as Naja naja.
On Uthra’s body, the snake punctures (the length of the snake bite) was more than 2 cm. The distance between the two snakebites was 2 mm apart. In a normal scenario, a snake puncture would be 1.7 to 1.8 cm-deep, unless the snake’s fangs are forced inside by holding its head.
Similarly, under normal circumstances, a snake would avoid the second bite to escape the perpetrator. And even if the snake does strike the second time, it would be at a different place and not 2 mm apart as was seen in Uthra’s case.
While these pointed to Uthra’s death being a murder, the investigation team knew it wasn’t evidence that would hold in court. So, the team decided to do a dummy test with a real cobra.
Trigger Warning | Viewer discretion is required|— Smitha T K (@smitha_tk) October 12, 2021
The police conducted a dummy test in Sept 2021 to recreate the scene of the crime & see how the cobra would have bitten.@TheQuint #Uthra
Read the full story here :https://t.co/jOQ8Kag4o6 pic.twitter.com/VzUVLXQHKw
A dummy, that was approximately Uthra’s size, was laid down on a coat. A piece of broiler chicken was tied to the dummy’s hand. The team placed the cobra on the dummy’s body. As shown in the video, the cobra didn’t really do anything. Rather, it crawled down.
Next, the team decided to provoke the cobra by using the dummy’s hand with the chicken leg tied to it. A cobra bites only when it is provoked as a defence mechanism. After a couple of provocation trials, the cobra finally stung. Upon checking the snake punctures, they noticed that they were 1.7 cm in length.
This was proof that the snake was induced to harm Uthra.
Yet another indication of homicide was the couple’s room:
- The room was air-conditioned, therefore, the windows and doors were locked. Even the gap between the door and the ground was so minimal that a snake wouldn’t have been able to pass through it.
- The room was on the ground floor. The window was 62 cm from the ground. The cobra that killed Uthra was 152 cm long. A cobra can raise itself to one-third of its overall length. Which meant, this particular cobra could have only raised itself to 50 cm. This concluded that the cobra couldn’t have come through the window even if it was open.
- According to herpatologists, cobras are highly active between 5 PM and 8 PM. Uthra was bitten late in the night. So a natural bite from a cobra was highly unlikely.
- The room had the smell of kerosene and phenol. Snakes usually avoid the smell.
The Viper Bite
The story gets crazier!
Uthra had undergone treatment 15 days before her murder. Guess what the treatment was for? She suffered a Russell’s viper bite. The team of investigation experts found it suspicious that Uthra would get bitten by a cobra a couple of days later.
The viper bite was also under investigation because:
- The incident occurred while Uthra was at Sooraj’s parents’ house, which is located in a marshy, wet area. You won’t see Russell’s viper in such areas as they prefer dry areas.
- This kind of snake cannot move easily on smooth, tiled surfaces or even on trees.
- A dummy test was conducted to test their theory. Instead of a chicken leg, a dead and an alive rat was tied to the dummy’s leg. The snake struck the alive rat. Again, it was proved that without provocation, a Russel’s viper would not attack.
The area around Sooraj’s parents’ house was theoretically and scientifically unsuitable for a Russell’s viper to make an entry. So, how did the snake come?
In both the snakebites, the person attacked would be aware of it. The pain is unbearable. But it wasn’t the case for Uthra. It was later found out that Sooraj had given Uthra sleeping pills so that she would be sedated.
The Conviction – October 11th and 13th, 2021
On the basis of this evidence, the court ruled that Sooraj was guilty of Uthra’s murder, attempt to murder, purposeful disappearance of the murder weapon, and hurt by means of poison.
Sooraj’s story is that of greed and what happens when you let that emotion take over your conscience. It’s a story that Kerala and the world will never forget.