An Indian man who reportedly rented a deadly cobra and a viper to kill his wife has been handed a double life sentence in what prosecutors have called the “rarest of rare” cases.

The guilty husband, identified as 28-year-old Sooraj Kumar, a resident of the Kollam District of Kerala state in India allegedly “hired” two snakes through a snake catcher and set them loose on his 25-year-old wife, Uthra, twice in a span of a few months with the intent to murder her.

In March 2020, Kumar reportedly unleashed a highly venomous Russell’s viper snake on his wife that left her in hospital for almost two months, prosecutors said.

While she recovered at her parents’ house, on May 6, 2020, while Uthra was asleep, Kumar allegedly threw a cobra on her bed and provoked the reptile to bite her twice. She died of the poisonous bite.

The incident was initially investigated as a case of natural death due to a snake bike. 

However, two days after Uthra’s death, her parents raised suspicions and filed a police complaint alleging Sooraj and his family members of harassing their daughter for more dowry.

Uthra’s parents also alleged that Kumar tried to take control of her property after her death.

Based on the complaint, the Kerala police arrested Kumar from his home last year. 

The investigators relied on scientific and technical evidence and reportedly conducted a test with another cobra and chicken meat to identify the difference between natural and induced bite marks.

It is one of those rare cases in which the investigators conducted an autopsy of the dead reptile used in the crime and reportedly found that the snake was starved for a week to make it more aggressive.

“In natural (accidental) bite, marks will spread to 1.7 to 1.8 cm but in Uthra’s case, it was 2.3 to 2.8 cm. That surely showed pressure was induced on the cobra,” said S. Harishankar, an investigation officer. 

Uthra’s autopsy results revealed traces of sleeping pills in her system, the officer added. 

During questioning, Sooraj admitted to having mixed sleeping pills in Uthra's juice on the day she was bitten.

Expert snake handler Vava Suresh believes it was possible that Kumar had “inflicted pain on the reptile to provoke it to bite”, the Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.

Kumar was charged under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 328 (causing hurt by poison), and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offense).

An additional sessions court on Monday, Oct.11, found him guilty of murder and poisoning his wife using a cobra, and of making an earlier attempt to kill her using Russell’s viper.

On Wednesday, Oct.13, Judge M. Manoj sentenced Kumar to two consecutive life sentences.

“The mode of execution and the diabolic plan of the accused to murder Uthra, his wife who was bedridden, makes it [the case] fall into the category of rarest of rare,” said the public prosecutor, who had sought the death penalty.

However, the judge did not consider the prosecution’s demand for capital punishment considering his age and opportunity to reform.

Uthra was from an affluent family and they had reportedly given 90 sovereigns of gold, a new car, and 500,000 rupees (about $6,640) as dowry to Kumar’s family.

According to reports, Kumar, a bank worker, was not well off and committed the murder so that he could steal her gold jewelry and marry another woman.

Kumar’s parents and sister were also charged with dowry harassment, conspiracy, and the destruction of evidence after some of Uthra’s gold was found buried near his home days after the murder.

Cobra Representation image. Pixabay.