Indian techie is representing himself in court to evade the death penalty.
The American Bazaar Staff
NEW YORK: The horrendous double murder case of Satyavathi Venna, 61, who was visiting from India, and her 10-month-old granddaughter, Saanvi Venna, who was kidnapped for ransom and her body found days later, in Montgomery County in Pennsylvania in 2012, took a bizarre turn when the accused killer Raghunandan Yandamuri told jurors that the police coerced him to confess to the crime, and his wife, who is now in India, had collected the reward money of $50,000.
Yandamuri, 28, a former information technology worker on trial in Norristown, told jurors he was home having lunch with his wife at the time the slayings took place elsewhere in his apartment complex, reported The Inquirer. But his wife told police he wasn’t there, he said, because she was afraid to place him so close to the crime scene.
Yandamuri, who is representing himself, took the witness stand Monday. As defendant and attorney, he was allowed to testify without being questioned Monday, and he spoke to jurors for more than an hour.
Montgomery County prosecutors seek the death penalty for Yandamuri in the stabbing of Venna, 61, who died in the family’s apartment for multiple stab wounds, and the suffocation of her 10-month-old granddaughter, Saanvi Venna.
Prosecutors say Yandamuri plotted to kidnap the baby for ransom to feed his gambling habit, but the plan went wrong. They have presented DNA evidence that they say links him to the killing, and said his confession, alone, led police to the body of the infant, said the Inquirer.
Yandamuri’s defense has centered on two themes: that he was coerced into confessing, and the crimes were committed by men named “Matt” and “Josh” who forced him at gunpoint to help.
When the police confronted Yandamuri with his lack of an alibi in October 2012, Yandamuri said he confessed because they threatened to arrest his wife for making a false statement.
Yandamuri’s wife has since returned to India and has refused to come to the United States to testify, Kevin Steele, the first assistant district attorney said after the court session. Shortly after his confession Yandamuri wrote a letter to Montgomery County Det. Paul Bradbury, saying the two men forced Yandamuri to take part in the killings. On Monday, Yandamuri accused Bradbury of ignoring his claims.
The local affiliate of ABC News reported that Yandamuri’s testimony is coming in the form of a long, rambling, and sometime incoherent statement to the jury.
The report said Yandamuri began his testimony not by explaining his theory that he was coerced into participating in the crime by two strangers named Matt and Josh. Instead he began by attacking the prosecution’s contention that he hatched the kidnapping plot to get out from under a mountain of gambling debt.
He claimed today that the money he withdrew from the bank was to be used to bring his mother and in-laws to the United States for a visit – not for gambling.
“So far, there’s been no explanation as to how his DNA was found under the fingernails of the baby’s grandmother. He hasn’t explained why the kidnap for ransom note was printed on a printer at his office. And he has not explained how he was able to lead detectives to the baby’s body in the basement of his King of Prussia apartment building,” said ABC.
After he confessed and demonstrated on video how he did it, Yandamuri asked to see his wife. The police agreed. A detective testified on Monday that while they waited for her, Yandamuri asked if police could tell the media that his wife turned him in so she could collect the $50,000 reward money.
Main Line reported that last week jurors watched the 2012 video of Yandamuri admitting to the killing Satyavathi Venna and the kidnapping and killing of Saanvi Venna.
Montgomery County Detective Paul Bradbury, the lead investigator in the case, said that after several hours of interrogation that began around 3:30 p.m. on October 25, 2012, Yandamuri confessed to the killings and the kidnapping on video at 7:11 a.m. on Friday October 26, 2012.
In the video, Yandamuri, 28, says he did not intend to kill the grandmother, but when he had Saanvi Venna in his arms, Satyavathi Venna lunged at him and he fell backward, cutting her throat with his knife. In the video Yandamuri said he planned on taking good care of the baby, but also on holding her until her parents paid him. Prosecutors believe that Yandamuri wanted the money as a means to pay off gambling debts; however, it has not yet been established in court how much debt Yandamuri was in.
Bradbury told the court that before the confession was videotaped, Yandamuri gave a verbal confession in the form of a question and answer statement. At that time, other investigators were standing outside of an office in the Upper Merion Police Department waiting for information on the then-missing Saanvi Venna. When Yandamuri told Bradbury where the baby was, other detectives who were outside immediately went to the gym at the Marquis Apartments, where they recovered the child’s body, said Main Line.
Bradbury explained during testimony that the ransom notes left at the scene of the crime gave investigators their first lead, which they acted on as quickly as possible.
“If you report this to the cops your daughter will be cut into pieces,” Bradbury read from the ransom note.
Bradbury also pointed out that the notes addressed the parents of Saanvi Venna by their nicknames, which only a handful of people knew. On October 23-24, 2012, investigators interviewed the eight to 10 people who knew the Vennas by their nicknames. On October 25, 2012, as detectives were on their way to speak with Yandamuri, they received a call from the Valley Forge Casino telling them he had just walked in. Investigators, according to Bradbury, met up with Yandamuri at the casino and he agreed to accompany them back to the Upper Merion police station for questioning.
Investigators did not begin to suspect Yandamuri until his wife, Komali Alokam, began telling police that he did not come home for lunch on the day Satyavathi Venna was killed. According to Bradbury, Alokam was being interviewed at their apartment in King of Prussia and said that her husband had not come home as he usually did and that she had to call him to ask if she could eat her lunch. After a few more hours of questioning, Yandamuri confessed, Bradbury said.
Testimony revealed that on November 13, 2012, Bradbury received a letter on his desk from Yandamuri from the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. The 21-page letter, which Bradbury read to the jury in its entirety, stated that Yandamuri had gone on a two-week hunger strike in the prison and he was prepared to help police capture the real culprits.
In the letter, Yandamuri writes that two white men approached him and threatened to kill him and his wife if he did not help them kidnap Saanvi Venna. He said his only part in the crime was opening the door for the two men who took the baby and stabbed the grandmother. He wrote in the letter that he wanted to tell police what happened, but feared for his wife’s safety. He said the two men tried to kidnap Saanvi Venna a week earlier, but no one opened the door for them. He wrote the needed Yandamuri to get Satyavathi Venna to open the door for him, so they could make their way inside the apartment.
At the end of the letter he wrote that if he could be given a chance he would have a plan to catch the two men. In the letter he pleads for investigators to take him seriously, said the Main Line report.
“Please help me, or please kill me,” Yandamuri wrote at the end of the letter.