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Court Ruling Allow Confession

Prosecutors can use Praveen Mandanapu's confession in the slaying and dismemberment of his wife, Circuit Judge Burke McCahill has ruled.

Mandanapu, a native of India and resident of Broadlands, is charged with first-degree murder in the June 12, 2004 slaying of his wife, Divya. Her head and torso were found in a suitcase in a South Riding Dumpster two days later.

His attorney, James G. Connell III, argued that his client's statements should be suppressed because investigators had coerced him into making them. McCahill, however, in a 12-page court ruling, wrote that Mandanapu "knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily elected to waive his rights and agreed to speak."

The ruling also contained criticism of the interrogation techniques used by the criminal investigators.

Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney James Fisher, smiling widely, applauded the decision as he hurried out the courtroom Friday, July 1.

"Obviously we felt it was the correct call, and now we can move forward with the trial or whatever may be necessary to bring justice to this case,Ó he said.

Fisher said he was not referring to a plea agreement, but Mandanapu could plead guilty rather than go to trial.

Connell responded to the ruling. "The police officers used the fact that Praveen was suicidal to convince him to confess in exchange for him being able to die," he said. "The court's decision did not take into account how much weight that promise of death held for Praveen at that time."

Court testimony and video recordings of interviews between Mandanapu and the investigators indicated that he begged them to help him die.

IN ADDITION, McCahill denied two other motions and granted one after a three-hour hearing last Tuesday. Connell had filed motions to suppress a search of the car, the house and Mandanapu's workplace. The judge ruled the searches of the car and house were admissible, but not the workplace.

Connell said he was unaware of what was found in the searches. Fisher said the inventory is laid out in court files, which are open to Connell and the public. The files, however, are not available because they are under the judge's review.

Fisher said McCahill left the issue open, allowing the prosecutor to show why the workplace search was valid. There was only one item of marginal significance found at the workplace, Fisher said. "We don't think we are going to pursue it, because it's minor."

Connell commented on the latter three rulings. "I think he listened carefully to the evidence and made a decision according to the law as he saw it."

REGARDING THE MOTION to suppress statements, the judge disagreed with several other arguments presented by Mandanapu's lawyer. Connell argued that if his client waived his rights, it was only in relation to the events of July 16, the day he ingested sleeping pills, insect repellent and fireworks in a suicide attempt. McCahill said Mandanapu never said he was limiting his discussion to that day.

Connell also maintained that his client had invoked his right to silence. McCahill wrote that he did not find Mandanapu's intermittent periods of unresponsiveness, followed by responses, equivalent to invoking a right to silence. McCahill wrote that Mandanapu corrected the investigators at times and refuted their statements. He maintained his innocence when he was first arrested, but later made a confession, the judge wrote.

Investigators interrogated Mandanapu for nine hours in one of four interviews with him. McCahill wrote that he was given breaks, food, beverages and the use of a bathroom.

McCahill referred to the testimony of four people, including a clinical psychologist identified in the ruling only as Dr. Hendricks. The judge wrote that Hendricks, after reviewing the video-taped interrogation, indicated that investigators had discussed reasons for living and explored reasons for dying. "This was significant in his mind, because in attempting to treat suicide, one typically explores and supports reasons for living with an individual," the judge wrote.

The judge said Robert Lessemun, an expert in custodial interrogations, also reviewed portions of the June 17 tape. He criticized the investigators for some of their interrogation techniques, including discussing death, eternal suffering and the death penalty. He said those techniques drove Mandanapu to silence.

John Wires, a clinical psychologist, watched a portion of the tape and spent seven hours with Mandanapu. He said the defendant showed signs of cognitive distortion, making him unable to understand or meaningfully respond to discussions about the past or future. He attributed it to a brief reactive psychosis, a response to a traumatic event. Wires testified that Mandanapu continued to show signs of disorganized thinking in September and October 2004.

McCAHILL WROTE that Dr. Arthur Rosecan countered that there was no evidence to support the diagnosis of brief reactive psychosis. He testified that a person who is suicidal can make informed decisions. The doctor also rebutted the hospital diagnosis that the defendant was suffering from a major depression. Instead, the diagnosis should have been reactive depression or an adjustment disorder, which is less severe and disabling than a major depression, he testified.

"This case underscores the importance of the need to consider the totality of the circumstances and most importantly all of the evidence," McCahill said "He recognized his predicament: that he was in custody as a suspect in his wife's murder."

The judge referred to a court decision, Harrison v. Commonwealth, that said "Mere emotionalism, confusion or depression do not dictate a finding of mental incompetence and insanity."

When asked whether he planned to use the insanity defense, Connell said he had not decided.

McCAHILL TOOK the investigators to task for tactics used to get Mandanapu to tell them where he took her limbs. He cited the investigators' reference to the wife's need to be whole, the need for a burial, the need to empty his emotional trash can, the prospect of eternal suffering justice and death. "The most troubling aspect of the interrogation relates to the defendant's repeated request for a means to die," he wrote.

McCahill referred to Connell's argument that the investigators made him more suicidal by emphasizing his reasons for dying and linking the promises of the death penalty for providing the information.

The investigators' purpose was not to address the defendant's mental state, but they should not have engaged in conduct that would exacerbate his desire to commit suicide, McCahill wrote. Mandanapu's will, however, was not overcome, the judge wrote.

About three pages of the ruling read like a movie script, capturing the volley of questions and answers between the investigators and the defendant during the interrogation. The judge wrote that the investigators wrongly told Mandanapu that the death sentence was available in this case. "While these misrepresentations É played upon the defendant's stated desire to end his life cannot in any way he condoned, they are only a factor in the totality of the circumstances," McCahill wrote.

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATOR Gregory Locke testified in December that Mandanapu confessed he had put his wifeÕs legs and arms in two separate white trash bags and thrown them in a Dumpster at Shenandoah Crossing in Fairfax. He threw a meat cleaver into another Dumpster at the same housing complex. Locke said Mandanapu told the investigators that he selected the site, because he had lived there for three years. He dumped her head and torso in the South Riding Dumpster because he happened to be driving past it.

By the time the defendant described the location of his wifeÕs limbs, the DumpstersÕ contents had been taken to a landfill.

Locke's December testimony described the events leading up to the disposal of her body parts.

Mandanapu said the trouble began on the morning of June 12. Everything was fine between the couple until he went to the grocery store. When he returned, she confronted him, which was out of character for her. ÒShe came to his room, crying and upset,Ó Locke said. Divya Mandanapu packed her bags, carried them to the top of the stairs, tripped on one of the bags and fell down to the landing. Mandanapu told the investigator, ÒHe saw this as an opportunity.Ó

The husband thought she would put him in jail on abuse charges. ÒShe was trying to put something on him,Ó Locke said, recalling MandanapuÕs complaint.

The defendant choked her for a Òcouple of minutes,Ó Locke said. ÒI asked him if she struggled and whether she screamed.Ó MandanapuÕs answer was, ÒYes.Ó

ÒHe stated he couldnÕt stand to look at her like that,Ó Locke said. So the defendant took her to the garage and put her body in a blue bag and into the suitcase. ÒHe put her in the suitcase intact.Ó

Mandanapu left the body in the garage overnight. Eventually he used a meat cleaver to cut off her arms and legs, because he was not strong enough to carry her to a Dumpster, Locke testified.

The couple got along well until they moved to Broadlands, Locke said. Ò[Then] he and his wife argued considerably about money."