The execution of Raghunandan Yandamuri, a native of Andhra Pradesh, who was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder for the brutally killing a 10-month-old child and the child’s grandmother in 2012 in Pennsylvania, has been scheduled for February 23.
Yandamuri was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2012 deaths of 61-year-old Satyavathi Venna and her 10-month-old granddaughter Saanvi Venna at their apartment home in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in October 2012. Saanvi was the first child of Indian American software engineers Latha and Venkata Venna; Sathyavathi was Venkata’s mother.
Raghunandan (32) worked as a software engineer in the US. The accused and the victims’ family hailed from Vishakapatnam in AP.
Raghunandan reportedly is likely to get a reprieve because the Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf had put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015.
Raghunandan was a family friend of the Vennas and lived in the same apartment complex. Saanvi’s body was found by investigators in the men’s bathroom of the gymnasium in the complex.
The motive for the murder was money; Raghunandan had a lot of gambling debts that he was unable to repay. He hatched a plan to kidnap Saanvi and demand money from her parents, Venkata Venna and Chenchu Latha Punuru, as he believed that the duo was wealthy since they both were working.
When he was trying to kidnap the baby, Satyavathi resisted and Raghunandan killed her first. When the baby began to cry, he stuffed her mouth with a handkerchief and also wrapped a towel around her face to hold the handkerchief.
"He then put her inside a blue suitcase he found in the bedroom, took jewellery he found in the apartment and placed that in the suitcase with Saanvi, then left the apartment and abandoned Saanvi’s body hidden in the steam room of the men’s bathroom of the gymnasium located inside the Marquis apartment building," the police affidavit read.
As Satyavathi found dead in the apartment and Saanvi was missing, a search for the baby began. Shockingly, Raghunandan went to console the ailing parents and even distributed flyers seeking information about the missing baby.
He could not escape for long. Raghunandan had left behind 10 copies of a ransom note demanding $50,000 in the apartment before leaving. The nicknames that he had used in his note helped the police trace the crime back to him.
In the note, he asked ‘Lata’, Saanvi’s mother, to send the money to a location he had mentioned. Since only a few close people addressed her by that name, Raghunandan, one among them, the couple doubted him.
The note also mentioned the name Siva. “The first word in the ransom note is ‘Siva’. During the interview, Venkata Venna told the investigators that his full name is Venkata Konda Siva Prasad Venna, and some of his close friends and family members call him ‘Siva’,” the affidavit stated.
The investigators then asked the couple to list names of people who were aware of the names ‘Lata’ and ‘Siva’. Raghunandan’s name featured in the list too. On being interrogated, he admitted to have committed the horrific crimes.
Raghunandan also told investigators that he panicked and the deaths were accidental. During the trial he alleged that he had been pressured into confessing the crime.
Before imposing the death sentence, judge O’Neill directly addressed Yandamuri, saying his actions were "borne of a wicked heart, borne of a man who appears to have no conscience." He chided Yandamuri for destroying the lives of a family who had come to the US to gain a better life.
During the two-week trial, in which Yandamuri represented himself, often bizarrely, the accused man repeated his innocence, saying two others were to blame. But O’Neill told Yandamuri as he imposed his sentence: “Make no mistake. You were convicted. The jury said you did it.”
Prosecutor Kevin Steele told the court before the death sentences were pronounced that the killer showed no mercy towards an elderly woman and her granddaughter. Satyavathi Venna had been visiting the US after the birth of her first grandchild and was due to return to India three months before she was killed.
Steele pointed to the fact that Yandamuri stole a gold chain from the dead woman’s neck, and stuffed the kidnapped Saanvi in a suitcase before hiding her in a basement gym at his apartment complex.
After the judge read out his sentence, Yandamuri apologized. “I feel sorry for the victims,” he said.
His mother, Padmavathi Yandamuri, who had come from India to attend her son’s trial, pleaded for his life, saying Yandamuri had suffered from mental health issues since his childhood, after his father was killed by terrorists.
Prosecutors, however, said during the trial that greed was the motive behind Yandamuri’s gruesome actions; the convicted killer kidnapped baby Saanvi after killing her grandmother and left several ransom notes around the Vennas’ apartment asking her mother Latha to deliver $50,000 in cash that evening to a nearby restaurant. Police arrested Yandamuri at a gambling casino four days after Saanvi went missing; in a bizarre move, the killer asked to be able to call his wife to turn him in and pick up a reward of $30,000 that community volunteers and police had collected for information leading to Saanvi’s whereabouts.
However, Raghunandan reportedly is likely to get a reprieve because the Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf had put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015.
"Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015 and state officials are awaiting the results of a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, a legislative commission, before moving forward with any executions," The Times Herald reported.