The biggest challenge faced by prosecution during the trial of Uthra murder case was proving the snakebite was homicidal and not natural. “The prosecution had to establish Uthra was killed by the cobra, its bite wan not natural and it was planted by her husband. Since the crime took place inside a closed room with no witnesses, we had to build the case on scientific and circumstantial evidence,” special prosecutor G Mohanraj told The Hindu.
Before filing the chargesheet, the investigating officers studied two similar cases reported from Puna and Allahabad where a poisonous snake was used as a murder weapon. Persons accused in both cases were acquitted since the prosecution couldn’t even prove the death was caused by snake venom. “We went through the judgement of both cases to find the pitfalls and analyse possible legal snags. Even the smallest aspect was probed in detail to avoid loose ends.”
A team that included herpetologists, forensic experts, veterinary surgeons and officials from Forest and Animal Husbandry departments was formed to collect scientific evidence. “Usually, polyvalent antivenoms are used to neutralise the poison of different kinds of snakes and if we identify the exact poisonous species, we can go for monovalent antivenom. In Uthra’s case we used the monovalent to prove she was bitten by a cobra. Next task was to prove the bite was not accidental, but induced,” he said.
During the trial the prosecution could prove both the viper and cobra bites were induced and not accidental based on the autopsy report of the snake and a dummy trail. Uthra was at the first floor of her husband’s house when the viper bit her. The prosecution argued that viper is a non-arboreal reptile and it can never reach the first floor on its own. “A viper crawling to the first floor and biting the victim contradicts its normal serpentine behavior,” he said.
Similarly, the crepuscular nature of the cobra and the difference in natural and induced fang width were presented as evidences. The prosecution also pointed out that cobras were naturally not seen in the premises of Uthra’s home and no snakebite cases were reported from the area during the last 15 years. “Sooraj had procured the venomous snakes from a handler and we had soild evidence connecting him to the handler. So we were able to come up with conclusive facts substantiating the snakebite was unnatural,” adds Mr.Mohanraj.
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