New York: A 28-year-old Indian has been sentenced to death in the US for killing an Indian baby and her grandmother in a 2012 kidnapping plot that went horribly wrong after a trial during which the accused said he would rather accept the death penalty than sit through arguments.
Raghunandan Yandamuri was convicted by a Montgomery County Court jury of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Satyavathi Venna, 61, and the suffocation death of her 10-month-old granddaughter, Saanvi Venna, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
The jury, which deliberated for about three and a half hours yesterday, could have chosen to sentence Yandamuri to life in prison without the possibility of parole but in making their decision, the five women and seven men considered aggravating factors such as the elements of Yandamuri's crimes and mitigating factors such as testimony regarding his gambling addiction and mental state.
Formal sentencing will be scheduled within 45 days. Philly.com reported that Yandamuri had no visible reaction to the announcement as he looked down and continued scribbling notes, as he had for much of the monthlong trial in Norristown, when the verdict was read.
Last week, Yandamuri told Montgomery County Court Judge Steven O'Neill that he would rather take the death penalty than sit through the sentencing hearing. Yandamuri had maintained his innocence throughout, showing no emotion during the trial even during times the jurors were moved to tears as evidence of his gruesome crime was presented in court.
Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele and Deputy District Attorney Samantha Cauffman said the sentence was what the victims' family wanted. "It's not going to give them back what they lost, but it is a sense of closure for them," Cauffman said.
Yandamuri had decided to represent himself for the first phase of the trial and Henry Hilles his attorney for the trial's sentencing phase said he was disappointed but that he had prepared Yandamuri for the possibility of the death penalty.
"I felt that if he had expressed remorse, he would have had a better chance at saving his life," Hilles said, adding that it was unclear whether Yandamuri would represent himself when he appeals the verdict. Prosecutors said Yandamuri, a former IT professional who emigrated from India on a work visa, plotted to kidnap the child for ransom money to feed his gambling habit and killed the grandmother when she got in his way.
Steele asked jurors to hand down the death penalty because Yandamuri committed the murders as part of a plan to carry out additional crimes, such as holding the child for ransom. He reminded jurors of testimony from a pathologist who said the infant died painfully with a great "hunger for air."
"I would ask you to think about the last moments of that innocent child's life," he said. Hilles asked jurors to sentence Yandamuri to life behind bars, saying he had no prior criminal record and a history of mental illness.
A forensic psychologist had testified that Yandamuri suffers from bipolar disorder that impairs his judgment and emotional control. "I am not standing up here asking for leniency," Hilles said. "Life in prison without parole is a horrible way to live."
Yandamuri knew the baby's parents from his King of Prussia apartment complex. The parents were young technology professionals from India. He had gone to a birthday party for the baby's mother, met the visiting grandmother and used family nicknames in a ransom note demanding USD 50,000, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Yandamuri had hatched the kidnapping plot to pay gambling debts after losing at least USD 15,000 at a casino near his office. He told investigators that he panicked after the grandmother, who had opened her family's apartment door to him, was killed in a struggle over a kitchen knife he had carried.
He told investigators that he accidentally dropped the baby, put a handkerchief over her mouth to quiet her and tied a towel around her head, then left her in a trash-strewn, unused sauna in a basement fitness center. He said he returned hours later with milk for her, but she was unconscious.