The Kollam Additional Sessions Court Wednesday imposed a double life sentence on Sooraj S Kumar (28) for murdering his wife Uthra (25) last year by using a cobra to bite her while she was asleep.
In a case described by the court as ‘rarest of the rare’, the convict was awarded life sentences on charges of Sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) as well as 10 years rigorous imprisonment under Section 328 (causing harm using poison) and seven years imprisonment under Section 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) of the IPC along with a fine of Rs 5 lakh.
The trial court stopped short of awarding the convict the death penalty considering his young age and no past criminal antecedents, underlining that there are opportunities for him to reform. However, the court made it clear that the convict would undergo jail sentences of 10 years and 7 years consecutively before starting his double life sentence.
Investigating officer and former Kollam Rural SP S Harishankar told reporters that he was satisfied with the verdict. “The quantum of sentence is decided by judicial discretion and has a lot of factors to keep in mind. The court has already found the accused guilty on all four charges arrayed by the investigating officers and the prosecution. Our efforts end there. We cannot comment on the quantum of sentence,” he said.
At the same time, the victim’s mother Manimeghalai, who monitored the proceedings of the trial from her home in Anchal in Kollam district, said she was not happy with the verdict as she was expecting the court to award the death penalty to Sooraj. She added that the family would appeal against the verdict.
The case dates back to May 7, 2020 when Uthra, a differently-abled mother of a one-year-old, was found dead due to a snakebite at her home in Anchal. The cobra, that bit her and later found in the same bedroom, was reported to have inflicted the bite in the night as Uthra, her husband Sooraj and their child slept.
Though it was initially dismissed as a snakebite death by the local police, the fact that Uthra had been bitten earlier by a viper on March 2, 2020 at her in-laws’ home, that required her to be hospitalised, and a complaint of foul-play in her death by her parents forced police higher-ups to launch a detailed investigation.
After a thorough investigation led by then Kollam Rural SP Harishanker, it was concluded by the officers that Sooraj, an employee of a private financial institution, had painstakingly plotted the murder of his wife Uthra by forcing a snake to bite her.
The police claimed that Sooraj purchased both the viper and the cobra from a snake handler with the intention of killing his wife and making it seem as a natural snake-bite. Though the attempt by getting the viper to bite her in March, 2020 failed as she was hospitalised on time, he managed to repeat the devious act with the cobra two months later. She was under treatment for over 50 days at a hospital following the first snakebite.
According to the police version, the couple had a strained relationship and Uthra’s parents alleged that she was regularly harassed by her in-laws over dowry. The Kollam Crime Branch, which led the probe, had filed a 1000-page chargesheet in the case, detailing the manner in which Sooraj carried out the murder, using scientific and circumstantial evidence.