Praveen Mandanapu confessed to the killing of his wife, Divya Mandanapu, because he was overcome with his own guilt, Commonwealth Attorney James Plowman said.
Mandanapu's attorney, James G. Connell III, said the suicidal Praveen Mandanapu confessed only as a way to ensure his own death.
It will be up to a jury to judge which story laid out by attorneys during their opening arguments Monday, Aug. 21, is more believable as they decide Praveen Mandanapu's guilt or innocence in the June 2004 strangling and dismemberment of his wife.
Praveen Mandanapu has been charged with first-degree murder for allegedly strangling his wife and dismembering her body with a meat cleaver June 12, 2004. He allegedly put her head and torso in a suitcase and tossed them into a Dumpster in South Riding. Divya Mandanapu's body parts were first discovered June 14, 2004, by a groundskeeper at The Abbey apartment complex.
The bags with Divya Mandanapu's legs and arms, which were allegedly dumped in a Dumpster at Shenandoah Crossing in Fairfax County, where the couple once lived, were never recovered. The cleaver Praveen Mandanapu used to dismember his wife was also never recovered, Connell said.
WHEN THE SUITCASE with Divya Mandanapu's body in it was first discovered, authorities could not identify the victim, Plowman said.
"It was a mystery," he told the jury. "They didn't really know what they had or who they had."
With partial luggage tags as the only clue, the Sheriff's Office began searching for the identity of the victim. Even though the body was only in the early stages of decomposition, authorities were not even sure of the nationality of the female victim, Plowman said.
It was a missing person's report filed by the Leesburg branch of the Middleburg Bank June 16, 2004, that led authorities to Divya Mandanapu, Plowman said.
When she did not show up for work June 14 and no one had heard from her for two days, Divya Mandanapu's co-workers filed the report. It was her co-workers who identified the Jane Doe in the medial examiner's office as Divya Mandanapu.
Plowman said that when a search warrant was executed for the Mandanapu home in Broadlands, Praveen Mandanapu was nowhere to be found.
"It was later discovered the Praveen Mandanapu left his work in Herndon Monday and did not return," Plowman said.
CONNELL SAID IT is Praveen Mandanapu's whereabouts during the days after his wife's death that tells the story. Using a Power Point presentation, Connell gave the jury the timeline of the events leading up to June 16, 2004.
Following an argument with her husband, Connell said, Divya Mandanapu left their home before noon with the intent of leaving her marriage. Later that day, her husband leaves several messages in Telugu, the couple's native tongue, for her at her work and with people in India, hoping she might contact him, Connell said.
June 14, after leaving another message for his wife, Praveen Mandanapu goes to work only to leave a few hours later. Later that day he checks into a hotel in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The next day, Praveen Mandanapu buys fireworks at a stand in Warfordsburg, Pa., Connell said, "with the intent of eating them."
Praveen Mandanapu was suicidal and, when an off-duty Clarke County police officer found him in his car on the side of the road, had just attempted to take his own life. Praveen Mandanapu had written a seven-page suicide note, Connell said.
"I'm done," he wrote. "I am overwhelmed."
Connell said at no point in the suicide note, which will be given to the jury during the trial, does Praveen Mandanapu mention killing his wife.
When he was found, Praveen Mandanapu had a heart-shaped photograph of he and his wife taped to the steering wheel of his car.
ONCE PRAVEEN Mandanapu had been located at the Winchester Medical Center, he had three separate interviews with Loudoun County investigators Greg Locke and Mike Grau.
Connell told the jury that investigators used several tactics to coerce his client to confess to the killing, including setting up Locke as the good cop and Grau as the bad cop.
The defense attorney said it was an "accord" that Praveen Mandanapu set up with Grau that caused him to confess. Grau insinuated that if he confessed to killing his wife, Praveen Mandanapu would get the death penalty.
"He doesn't know the details, but he wants to get it right because he wants to put his suicide into action," Connell said.
Grau is no longer with the Sheriff's Office and is currently on trial for allegedly stealing guns from the Sheriff's Office's evidence room in an unrelated case.
Plowman maintained during his opening arguments Praveen Mandanapu was simply feeling guilt over his actions when he confessed.
"You will hear statements out of his own mouth that he should die for what happened to his wife," Plowman told the jury.
At the end of the first interrogation, Locke left Praveen Mandanapu with some things to think about, Plowman said, including that he should tell them where the rest of his wife's body was so her family could give her a proper burial.
It was Praveen Mandanapu who requested the second interview with Locke because, Plowman said, "he wanted to get something off his chest."
"He gives a description of strangling his wife because she was leaving him." Plowman said.
Death by strangulation takes several minutes to occur, Plowman said, and Praveen Mandanapu could have let go at any time.
Plowman added that Praveen Mandanapu made statements to investigators that he was holding some information back to help with his defense.
CONNELL SAID the case would be decided by the evidence.
"This is fundamentally going to be about evidence," he said. "Evidence you can touch, evidence you can see."
Showing a layout of the Mandanapu home with notes about what investigators found, Connell said they did not find what they should have found.
"There was no blood around," he said.
At the end of the case, Connell said, the jury would be able to compare what actually happened with what Praveen Mandanapu said happened and they would be able to see that he confessed only to put his suicide into motion.
The prosecution is expected to show a video of the confession and audio tapes of the other interviews to the jury later in the trial. The trial is expected to last seven days.