Following the showing of a chilling police videotape in which he described how 10-month-old Saanvi and her grandmother Satyavathi Venna died, Raghunandan Yandamuri pleaded not guilty to first and second degree murder at his preliminary hearing Nov. 28 in Montgomery County, Penn., District Court.
A trial date has not yet been set in a case that has chilled the Indian American community nationwide.
Yandamuri – who was brought to court in shackles – is being held in jail without bail. He has also been charged with kidnapping, robbery, theft and abuse of a corpse.
A White House petition seeking the death penalty for Yandamuri has been cycling through social media networks.
“My intention was not to kill anyone or harm anyone. I only wanted to kidnap the baby,” said Yandamuri during a taped interview with police shortly after he was arrested Oct. 26 (I-W, Nov. 2). “But the situation went worse. I got so scared. I was out of control,” he said in the police tape which was released in court Nov. 28.
“I’m really sorry for what has happened,” Yandamuri told police. “One moment of anger has ruined so many lives. I know the pain the parents are going through.”
On Oct. 22 morning, Yandamuri – a friend of Latha and Venkata Venna, Saanvi’s parents – entered the Venna apartment home in the Upper Merion township of King of Prussia, Penn. Yandamuri had a knife and 10 copies of a ransom note, seeking $50,000 from the Vennas – both software engineers – for their little baby daughter. Yandamuri had filed for bankruptcy earlier this year in Northern California, and had more recently accrued a $15,000 gambling debt, playing at a facility close to his workplace, according to police reports.
The chilling ransom note read: “Shiva, your daughter has been kidnapped. If you report this to cops, your daughter will be cut into pieces and found dead. If you inform this to anyone, you will find your daughter’s body parts thrown into your apartments. Our people are monitoring all your moves all the time. Your e-mails and phone are being traced.”
The note went on to specify that Latha alone should meet the kidnapper at a nearby Baja Fresh restaurant at 8 p.m., with $50,000 in cash, and re-stated that she alone should come there with the cash; if anyone else was spotted, Saanvi would be killed.
“Remember, your baby has been starving since the morning. It is up to you to decide, do you want your one-year-old daughter or five months of your income,” read the ransom note, which Yandamuri revealed he had written and printed out at his work site, GSI Commerce.
“They were both working, I thought they would have money,” said Yandamuri.
Satyavathi Venna, an Andhra Pradesh native who had been visiting her family since July, opened the door for Yandamuri on that fatal morning. “I showed her the knife,” said Yandamuri in his taped interview with police. “I told her very clearly ‘I don’t want to harm you, I don’t want to harm the baby’,” he told police.
Yandamuri grabbed Saanvi, who was lying on a sofa, but Satyavathi came towards him to try and save her granddaughter from the kidnapping. Saanvi slipped from Yandamuri’s hand and – as he fell on top of the baby – Yandamuri said he simultaneously lunged at Satyavathi, who collapsed onto her side, bleeding profusely from her neck.
Yandamuri said he used the tip of his four-inch knife to determine the extent of Satyavathi’s injuries and found her to be unconscious. He picked up the crying baby Saanvi and put a handkerchief around her mouth in an attempt to stop her sobs.
Yandamuri told police he next entered the Vennas’ bedroom, where he found a blue suitcase. He put Saanvi in the suitcase with a towel and handkerchief around her head and mouth, and told police he zipped up the suitcase halfway. Yandamuri also stole several pieces of jewelry from the apartment before leaving with Saanvi in the suitcase. He fled to the basement gym of a neighboring apartment and opened the suitcase to find the little baby unconscious.
Yandamuri said he splashed water on Saanvi’s face to try to revive her but the tiny girl did not respond.
The alleged killer said he left the unconscious baby on a wooden step in the gym’s steam room. He then took all the evidence – including the handkerchief, towels, suitcase and jewelry – and went to his office. Yandamuri said he stashed some of the jewelry behind a vending machine at his workplace, then threw the rest away along with other evidence into a nearby river.
Two days later, Yandamuri told police he went back to the steam room to give Saanvi some milk from a bottle, but she had died by then, he said.
During the massive, four-day search for Saanvi, Yandamuri eluded police, going to the extent of printing and passing out “missing baby” fliers. He was finally identified as a suspect after using Venkata Venna’s nickname Siva – known by few – during a police interview.
In an interview with India-West earlier last month, Venkata Venna said Yandamuri and his pregnant wife Komila were friends who frequently shared meals together. “I told his wife, ‘any time you need help, you can come to my house, and talk to my mother.’ He was like a friend to us,” Konda told this newspaper, expressing his concern for Komila, now that her husband faces double murder charges.
Komila has since returned to her family’s home in Vishakapatnam, according to Indian media reports.
Satyavathi Venna’s body was flown home last month to Kudumulakuntla — in the Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh — for proper burial rights.
Watch Yandamuri's confession video from the Times Herald below: