A young software engineer from Karnataka has become the first Indian to be sentenced to death in the United States after he was convicted of the 2012 killings of a 61-year-old woman and her 10-month-old daughter.
A jury in Pennsylvania found Raghunandan Yandamuri guilty of first degree murder, despite medical evidence claiming that he had been suffering bi-polar disease at the time of the killings.
Prosecutors described the murders as a “kidnapping plot gone wrong”.
Yandamuri’s trial heard that he had become mired in debt due to a gambling habit and had gone to the victim’s apartment in King of Prussia in south eastern Pennsylvania, to kidnap baby Saanvi Venna and hold him to ransom to pay off a $15,000 debt he had run at a casino.
The killer’s and the victim’s family lived in the same apartment complex.
Yandamuri told investigators that he had panicked after the grandmother, Satayrathi Venna, had opened the apartment door and was killed in a struggle over a kitchen knife he had carried.
Mrs Venna had arrived in the US in June 2012 for a six month visit and was babysitting her grandchild while her parents were at work.
Victims Mrs Satayrathi Venna and her grand daughter Saanvi
Yandamuri told police that he had grabbed the infant after killing Mrs Venna before putting a handkerchief over her mouth to quieten her and tied a towel around her head.
He said he then left the baby in an unused sauna in a basement fitness center and when he returned hours later with milk for her she was unconscious.
The court heard that Yandamuri had known the baby’s parents, who were also technology professionals from Karnataka.
Yandamuri had earlier gone to a birthday party for the baby’s mother, had met the visiting grandmother and used family nicknames in a ransom note demanding $50,000, authorities said.
“They both are working, so I thought maybe they have some money,” Yandamuri told police in a videotaped statement.
“My intention was not to kill anyone or not to harm anyone. I only tried to kidnap the baby.”
At his trial, Yandamuri represented himself and declared that he would rather accept the death penalty than sit through arguments over his fate.
A pubic defence lawyer presented mitigating arguments against the death penalty for Yandamuri, saying the accused had suffered bipolar disorder with a history of pscyhiatric and non-psychiatric episodes of depression as well as post traumatic stress following the death of his father.
The jury however, was unanimous in its verdict, returning the death penalty verdict after deliberating for just over three hours.