Two days after finding 28-year-old Sooraj guilty of killing his 25-year-old wife Uthra by using a cobra, the Kollam Additional Sessions Court has on Wednesday awarded a double life sentence and 17 years of incarceration for the horrific crime. However, Uthra's family had expressed disappointment over the sentence and said that they will appeal to the High Court amid the demands that Sooraj should be awarded the death penalty.
The Kollam Court had convicted Sooraj on Monday in the case of killing his wife. Sooraj has been convicted under four sections - 302 (Punishment for murder), 307 (Attempt to murder), 328 (causing hurt by means of poison with intent to commit an offence), and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of the offence). The court has pronounced the quantum of the sentence to Sooraj on Wednesday amid heavy security around the courthouse.
According to the judgment, Sooraj will have to first undergo 17 years of imprisonment as he was found guilty under 328 (causing hurt by means of poison with intent to commit an offence) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of the offence). After serving 17 years of incarceration, Sooraj will begin to serve a double life sentence for sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder). Besides conferring a life sentence to the convict, the court has also imposed Sooraj a fine of Rs 5 lakh. The verdict, which was delivered with huge attention, had become a setback for the prosecution.
The reports say that though the prosecution had argued for the death penalty as the Uthra murder case as rarest of rare, Sooraj's young age and no past criminal history have saved him from stepping onto the gallows. As the final verdict has come one-and-a-half-year after the incident, let's take a look at the timeline of what has become one of the notorious cases in the country,
March 2, 2020: Uthra was first bitten by a viper at her husband Sooraj's residence in Adoor in the Pathanamthitta district. She was rushed to the hospital. She was admitted to a private hospital in Thiruvalla and was getting treatment for the snakebite till April 22.
May 7, 2020: Two weeks after she returned from the hospital, she was again bitten by a snake for the second time, this time by a cobra at her residence in Anchal of Kollam district. As she was already ailing from the viper bite, the lethal venom from the cobra had worsened her health and she had died. The back to back snake bites had drawn a notion from the local residents and relatives that Uthra had the wrath of snake (sarppa kopam).
May 24, 2020: The police had arrested Uthra's husband Sooraj based on the suspicion raised by Uthra's family over her death, amid the rumours of sarppa kopam. A case was filed against Sooraj under sections of murder, attempt to murder, and destruction of evidence. Two days later, an autopsy was done on the snake that had bitten Uthra.
July 6, 2020: Suresh, a native Kalluvathukkal of Kollam and a snake handler, who was the second accused in the case had turned as an approver, post which the case took a major turn. Suresh had admitted that he rented out the snake to Sooraj and claimed that he was unaware of the murder motive behind Sooraj's snake hiring. Sooraj had paid Rs 10,000 for the snake handler and the former had let the snake into the house when Uthra was sleeping.
July 13, 2020: Sooraj broke down in front of the media and admitted that he committed the crime and the next day, he was taken to Uthra's residence in Anchal for collecting evidence.
August 14, 2020: The rural police of Kollam Crime Branch had filed a 1,000-page charge sheet before the Punalur Chief Judicial Magistrate Court. As per the charge sheet, Sooraj had tried to kill Uthra twice by forcing poisonous snakes to bite her and there was an attempt to destroy the evidence both times. The charge sheet further said that the murder was committed with the intention of extorting money.
On the front of filing of the charge sheet, the then rural SP of Kollam has said that Sooraj had refused to admit the crime despite the evidence and the police had then gathered circumstantial evidence that include scientific, experimentation, forensic, and DNA analysis. The officials had also worked with many other departments which is why the police were able to submit the charge sheet within the time limit.
December 1, 2020: Following the filing of the charge sheet, the trial has begun in the case amid the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. Dozens of witnesses and hundreds of evidence were investigated in the case while Sooraj was lodged in the Kollam sub-jail.
August 26, 2021: The probing team had released a video on how the crime was unfolded. The footage had shown a real snake attacking a human dummy in a way of documenting how the crime was committed. As the trial was at a full pace, the verdict had been under expectation.
October 11, 2021: The Kollam Sixth Additional Session Court Judge M Manoj had delivered the judgment convicting Sooraj for killing his wife Uthra by using a snake. Sooraj was brought to the courthouse on Monday from Kollam jail by 12.10 pm in the midst of heavy security. The prosecution had produced 87 witnesses, 286 pieces of documentary evidence, and 40 other pieces of evidence during the trial.
During the proceedings, prosecutor Mohanraj had appealed to the judge to consider this case as a rarest crime and asked the court to award the death penalty to Sooraj. Judge Manoj had asked Sooraj whether he had anything to say. Responding to that, Sooraj said he has nothing to say. Following the hearing, the judge found Sooraj guilty of killing his wife by using a snake and said that the quantum of punishment will be pronounced on Wednesday.
October 13, 2021 -Wednesday: As announced, the Kollam session court has delivered its final verdict and Sooraj was awarded a double life sentence and 17 years of imprisonment. While the prosecution demanded the death penalty for Sooraj, the judge noted that there are opportunities for him to reform and that he would be serving life incarceration. According to reports, it is the very first case in the entire country where a man has been found guilty of murder using a snake.
Why Uthra's mother is unhappy with the verdict?
Uthra's parents had alleged that she was regularly harassed by her husband and her in-laws over dowry. Uthra's mother Manimekhala, who watched Wednesday's court proceedings and sentence on television, said that she is disappointed with the verdict. She said that such loopholes in the law has been creating criminals like Sooraj and added that they will definitely be approaching the High Court and further said that her family feels that they were denied justice. She added that it will set a bad precedent if a criminal like Sooraj is not given the death penalty. What more heartbreaking is Uthra had an 18-months-old son when she died. Following her demise, Uthra's parents have been taking care of the child.