In a first-of-its-kind case in Kerala, the Additional Sessions Court in Kollam district on Monday, October 11, found Sooraj, a man from Kollam, guilty of killing his 25-year-old wife using a cobra. Sooraj was accused of hiring a viper and then a cobra and setting it onto his wife in order to kill her and now, the court has held that he is guilty of her murder. The quantum of punishment will be announced on October 13.
On Monday morning, Sooraj was brought to the court by a large police force, including the security cover of armed police. A huge crowd of people had gathered outside the court right from the morning. Even the corridors of the court were packed, as people gathered to get to know more about the verdict. Uthra’s father Vijayasenan and her brother Vishnu, were inside the courtroom listening to the verdict. At the start of the proceedings, the magistrate asked Sooraj if he had anything to say, but Sooraj said he had nothing to say. Prosecutor G Mohanraj then asked the magistrate to consider this a rarest of rare crime that was both cruel and demonic, and asked that Sooraj be given the death penalty.
Sooraj was been found guilty under four sections of the Indian Penal Code — 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 328 (Poisoning) and 201(Causing disappearance of evidence of offence).
25-year-old Uthra, a woman who was living with a few disabilities, was found dead at her house in Anchal of Kollam district on May 7, 2020, and it was learnt that she had died of a snake bite. The local residents and neighbours had spoken about the ‘sarppa kopam’ (wrath of the snake) against Uthra, as she was injured in a similar incident at her husband’s house in Adoor earlier that year. In March 2020, she was bitten by a viper and in May 2020, she was bitten by a cobra. However, her parents suspected foul play in their daughter’s death, and filed a complaint with the police. This led to the unravelling of a macabre murder, one that took extensive planning.
The police in their investigation found that Uthra’s husband Sooraj had been plotting the crime for some time and that he had ‘hired’ snakes twice from Suresh, a handler from Kalluvathukkal of Kollam. First in March 2020, he hired a viper snake and ensured that Uthra was bitten by the snake. Uthra was in a bed-ridden situation for 52 days and had to undergo a plastic surgery after getting bitten by the viper.
Kerala police had told the court that Sooraj rented a cobra again when Uthra was back home for Rs 10,000. Making Uthra get bitten again with a more venomous snake while she had still not recovered from the earlier attempt amounts to brutal murder, the police had said.
Sooraj was arrested on May 24, two weeks after Uthra’s death, and snake handler Suresh later turned approver in the case.
A few weeks after Sooraj’s arrest, the crime branch also arrested his father, mother and sister. They were charged for conspiracy, domestic violence and destruction of evidence. A portion of gold that Uthra had brought with her was found buried in soil behind their house in Adoor and was recovered.
On July 13, 2020, Sooraj broke down in front of the media and admitted that he committed the crime. He was brought to the evidence collection at his house in Adoor by the Forest department.
A postmortem and DNA analysis of the snake was done in this case. The police also conducted a ‘dummy’ test in September 2021 to recreate the scene of the crime and see how the cobra would have bitten Uthra.
The investigation into the case was led by Crime branch DySP A Ashokan. The team had submitted a 1,000-page chargesheet in the case before Punalur Chief Judicial Magistrate Court in August. G Mohanraj was appointed the special prosecutor for the trial.
S Harisankar, then Kollam rural SP, had told the media that Sooraj never showed any guilt throughout their proceedings. “We perceive Sooraj as a seasoned criminal without any guilt. He never admitted anything more than the evidence we presented. He gave statements in a calculated manner,” the officer said.
“We had gathered maximum circumstantial evidence that include scientific, experimentation, forensic, DNA analysis. We have also worked with many other departments. So we were able to submit a charge sheet within the time limit,” he added.
Uthra’s family had alleged domestic violence and dowry harassment by Sooraj and his family, and alleged that is what subsequently led to her murder. The couple had married in March 2018 and they had an 18-month-old son when Uthra died. The child was then taken into the care of Uthra’s parents.