A husband in India has been found guilty of murdering his wife by unleashing a venomous cobra that bit her while she slept.
P Sooraj, 27, hatched a meticulous plan which involved renting snakes from a handler and conducting extensive internet research on their bites.
A court in Kollam district in southern Kerala convicted him of murder and poisoning his wife Uthra, 25, in May 2020, and of making an earlier unsuccessful attempt to kill her using a Russell's viper.
In a packed courtroom on Monday, Judge Manoj M found him guilty of using the snake to inflict a fatal bite on his disabled wife.
The judge will pass sentence on Wednesday. The prosecution has demanded the death penalty, arguing the murder falls into the “rarest of the rare” category.
The murder has gripped the state. Investigators produced a 1,000-page charge sheet that detailed the meticulous murder plan.
Sooraj was arrested weeks after Ms Uthra’s family alleged foul play because of snake bites on her body and attempts by her husband to transfer her properties into his name.
The couple were married in 2018 and had a daughter. But Ms Uthra’s family alleged that Sooraj, a low-paid private employee, wanted to kill her to take her wealth and marry another woman.
Investigators said they found Sooraj bought a viper in March 2020 from a snake handler and used it to inflict bites on his wife, but she survived. Ms Uthra remained in hospital for weeks before moving to her parents’ house to recuperate. This is where the fatal attack took place in May.
The prosecution said Sooraj bought the venomous Indian cobra from another snake handler for 10,000 rupees ($1,300) and threw it on her while she slept. Sooraj remained in the room overnight and left for work in the morning before her parents found her in the bed with the cobra and with bites on her body.
Prosecution lawyer G Mohanraj said a team of police investigators, herpetologists, forensic experts, veterinary surgeons and wildlife officials collected scientific evidence against Sooraj after the snake handler gave evidence against his customer.
DNA tests of the cobra matched the poison found in Ms Uthra’s body and investigators recreated the crime scene by using a snake on a dummy. Mr Mohanraj said they proved the snakebites were induced after a snake handler testified that the fang width on the body indicated that the serpent was provoked to bite the victim.
The prosecution said there had been no cobra bites in the area for 15 years.
“He did not have a slightest degree of remorse and maximum punishment should be given to him,” Mr Mohanraj told The National. “They have a child and he wanted to use her as a bargain and keep receiving the money."
Two defendants were acquitted by courts in similar cases in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh in recent years after the prosecutions failed to prove snake bites were induced.
Last week, India’s Supreme Court denied bail to a woman and her lover accused of using a cobra to kill her mother-in-law in 2018. The court said using a snake as a “weapon of murder” was a heinous crime.