While the case’s eye-catching details have drawn international attention, the country’s Supreme Court has suggested it may be part of a growing trend in India where murderers use poisonous snakes in an effort to pass off the death as accidental.
Sooraj Kumar was sentenced Wednesday after being found guilty of murder by a lower court in the state of Kerala on Monday.
According to prosecutors, Kumar married his wife for financial gain but soon became dissatisfied with the marriage and began conspiring to kill her.
“If he divorces her he will have to part with all her wealth,” Hariram Shankar, assistant superintendent of police in Kerala told NBC News. “If he kills her through an explicit murder weapon, the wealth would also have to be returned. So he wanted to get rid of her through something that would resemble an accident.”
“But in the course of our investigation, we found that this was a well-planned murder,” Shankar said.
Death by snakebite is common in India, with 1.2 million such deaths from 2000 to 2019, according to the World Health Organization.
Prosecutors said that, after an unsuccessful effort involving a viper, Kumar procured a poisonous cobra from a snake charmer, starved it for a week to render it more aggressive and induced it to bite his wife.
“From the postmortem of the snake, we found out that its abdomen was empty,” Shankar said. A snake in its natural habitat feeds everyday, and the meal is digested over the course of seven days.
The size of the bites was also unusual. An average cobra bite, according to Shankar, should be around 1.8 to 2 centimeters. The bite marks on Kumar’s wife, Uthra, however, were as large as 2.8 centimeters, which hinted to the investigation team that they weren’t natural.
Police claim that the suspicious timing of the two bites also pointed to foul play. After the alleged failed attempt two months earlier, Kumar’s wife had been admitted to the hospital, where she had to undergo plastic surgery to repair the damage caused by the viper’s bite.
“The viper is a completely terrestrial snake. It is determined to live on the ground. It does not climb,” Shankar said. But the viper was found in the bedroom of their home’s second floor after the first attempt.