KOLLAM: Strong scientific and circumstantial evidence collected by the probe team proved crucial in establishing beyond a doubt that Uthra was murdered by her husband Sooraj S Kumar. Right from the behaviour of the snakes that bit Uthra (she died of the second snakebite) to the venue of the incidents, the probe team analysed every small detail to conclude that it was a cold-blooded murder.
“The behaviour of the snakes as well as the places and timings of the incidents were unusual and fuelled our doubts,” said former rural SP S Harisankar who led the probe. Uthra was first bitten by a viper on March 2, 2020, on the first floor of Sooraj’s house near Adoor.
“Vipers are terrestrial snakes and cannot climb upstairs on their own. Hence, someone placed it there. And cobra, the snake that bit and kill Uthra on May 7, 2020, is usually not active at night. Also, snakes do not bite anyone who is asleep without provocation,” said Harisankar.
According to the prosecution, greed prompted Sooraj to murder Uthra. She had slight learning disabilities and Sooraj married her knowing this. However, he plotted to eliminate her in an unsuspecting manner so that he continued to get financial benefits from her family.
Harisankar agreed. “Money was the motive. Had he divorced Uthra or got rid of her any other way, Sooraj would have lost the dowry and rights to her property. Hence, he hatched a plan to make her death seem natural,” said the officer. He explained how the team presented its findings at the court.
“We recreated the entire scene in court using a dummy. With the help of forest officials, we demonstrated how the average width of the fang marks is normally around 1.75cm in a normal snakebite and how it was more than 2cm in this case, making it clear that the snake’s head was pressed on Uthra’s body,” he said.
The mobile forensic records, marked as evidence in court, also showed that Sooraj had done extensive research on viper and cobra bites. The communication between Sooraj and snake catcher Santhosh prior to the incident and the sworn statement by the latter, who turned approver later, proved crucial too.
Mother was suspicious, but none believed her
According to the prosecution and Uthra’s family members, her mother Manimegalai had raised doubts that something was not right on the day Uthra suffered the first snakebite. “None of us believed her as we could never imagine that Sooraj, who was like a son to us, could do that to my innocent daughter. However, he cheated and killed her,” said Vijayasenan, Uthra’s father.
“Sooraj’s weird behaviour during her funeral ceremony made us more doubtful. I then filed a complaint against him. When the local police delayed taking action, I filed a complaint with then Kollam Rural SP S Harishankar who handed over the probe to the Crime Branch,” he said.
Manimegalai said they want Sooraj’s punishment to serve as a deterrent to others. “No parent should go through what we did,” she said. Uthra’s brother Vishnu thanked all the police officers who worked hard to bring the culprit to book. Use of a living object to commit the crime and the conspiracy to make it appear a natural death made the case a rare one. It has been included in the training syllabus of police officers.
Fitting end to heinous crime
March 2, 2020: Uthra is bitten by a snake (viper) at her husband’s house in Adoor
March 2 to April 22: Uthra seeks treatment for snakebite at a private hospital in Tiruvalla
May 7, 2020: Uthra dies after getting bitten by a second snake (cobra) while sleeping at her house in Anchal, Kollam
May 24, 2020: Uthra’s husband Sooraj is arrested based on suspicion raised by Uthra’s family over her death
May 26, 2020: Postmortem examination of the cobra that killed her is done. The fangs, bones and brain of the 152-cm long snake are collected. The fangs are 6cm long
July 4, 2020: Snake catcher Suresh, 2nd accused, submits plea to turn approver
July 14, 2020: Sooraj is brought to Uthra’s home for evidence collection
August 14, 2020: Kollam Crime Branch (Rural Police) files a 1,000-page chargesheet before the Punalur Chief Judicial Magistrate Court
December 1, 2020: Trial begins
October 11, 2021: Verdict pronounced. Sooraj is found guilty