A jury recommended a 55-year sentence for Praveen Mandanapu for the murder of his wife, Divya Mandanapu. The sentence recommendation came after almost a full day of deliberations Wednesday, Aug. 30.
Tuesday, Aug. 29, the jury found Praveen Mandanapu guilty of first-degree murder.
First-degree murder carries a possible sentence of 20 years to life. Virginia does not allow parole for felony convictions.
The prosecutor said Praveen Mandanapu strangled his wife and dismembered her body with a meat cleaver June 12, 2004. According to testimony, Praveen Mandanapu 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.
Praveen Mandanapu told police, the bags with Divya Mandanapu's legs and arms were put in a Dumpster at Shenandoah Crossing in Fairfax County, where the couple once lived, however, the bags were never recovered. The cleaver Praveen Mandanapu used to dismember his wife was also never recovered.
BEFORE THE JURY began deliberating a sentence, Commonwealth's Attorney James Plowman gave an emotion-filled statement that brought more than one juror to tears.
"There are a lot of things we don't know about Divya," he said, "but we do know she was caring, loving, a best friend and mother figure to her little sister. And she knew she was about to die. He looked into her face as he squeezed the life from her body."
Divya Mandanapu's sister, Kanaka Durga Kappera Sri, who attended the trial as the family's representative, spoke during sentencing about the loss of her sister.
In his closing, defense attorney James Connell III asked the jury to think about how long 20 years is.
"Think about who you were 20 years ago," he said. "Think about the passage of time."
THROUGHOUT THE trial, the defense maintained that Praveen Mandanapu was innocent and only confessed to killing his wife after being coerced by Investigators Greg Locke and Mike Grau.
Connell said Praveen Mandanapu was suicidal during each of the three interviews he had with investigators and only wanted to find a way to kill himself when he confessed.
Praveen Mandanapu left his work, Monday, June 14, 2004, suicidal because he believed Divya Mandanapu had left him, the defense said. When he was found in his car by an off-duty Clarke County police officer two days later, he had just tried to ingest insect repellent and fireworks, Connell said.
"That kind of mind-set is how a person can confess to a crime they didn't commit," he said. "That is the effect of the tunnel vision of how do I achieve my goal of suicide."
Connell added that Praveen Mandanapu was only feeding back what investigators told him about the crime and offered no new evidence.
Connell pointed to the lack of forensic evidence as an indication of Praveen Mandanapu's innocence.
"Praveen Mandanapu may lie about what happened by the forensic science will not," he said.
A team of forensic scientists documented the scene where Divya Mandanapu's body was found, Praveen Mandanapu's car and the Mandanapus' home, Connell said, where they found "no blood, no hair, no bone, no body fluids, no evidence of a forensic nature at all."
During his closing, Connell said the real killer was still at large and killed Divya Mandanapu after she left her home on June 12, 2004. The defense attorney pointed to a Parliament cigarette butt found inside the bag that held the body as evidence of another suspect.
"The most disturbing idea is that the killer is still out there," Connell said. "The cigarette alone is a doubt that is reasonable."
DEPUTY COMMONWEALTH'S Attorney James Fisher called the idea of another killer "nonsense."
"It is nothing but a red herring, a distraction to divert you from the truth," he told the jury during his rebuttal.
"Imagine the prosecution of the phantom killer," Fisher said. "What a great defense he has. The husband who confessed."
During his direct closing Fisher said the evidence in the case pointed to the guilt of Praveen Mandanapu. Fisher said the case may have been a simple missing person's case if not for the happenstance of a maintenance worker.
"[Praveen Mandanapu] was setting up what he hoped would be a missing person case," Fisher said, referring to his actions after June 12, which included phone calls to his wife's work and the suicide attempt.
Fisher pointed to the way in which Divya Mandanapu died as evidence of premeditation, saying it takes four to five minutes for death to occur from strangulation.
"At any time during that time he could say, 'I'm not going to kill you, I'm not going to kill you,'" Fisher said.
Fisher showed the jury twine that was found in the Mandanapu home, which was consistent with the twine tied around the suitcases that held the body. He showed jurors a blue backpack that matched the bag that held Divya Mandanapu's body and a photo of a hole in the wall of the landing in the Mandanapu home where the strangulation took place. Fisher told jurors about the latex gloves found in the garage of the Mandanapu home, the "same place he set up shop."
"Alone they may be nothing, but with everything else, they are definitely something," Fisher said.
Praveen Mandanapu will come before Judge Burke F. McCahill for official sentencing Nov. 30.