Man Convicted of Murder in Wife's Death

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Loudoun County jury found an Ashburn man guilty yesterday of strangling his wife and dumping her dismembered body into trash bins a little more than two years ago.

Praveen Mandanapu was accused of killing Divya Mandanapu, 28, on June 12, 2004. Prosecutors said that the 34-year-old computer programmer used a meat cleaver to dismember her body and that he stuffed part of the nearly decapitated corpse into a suitcase before tossing the remains into trash bins in Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

An apartment complex maintenance worker discovered Divya Mandanapu's torso in a dumpster in South Riding, about five miles from the couple's Ashburn home. Investigators identified Praveen Mandanapu as a suspect shortly after the body was found.

Mandanapu was arrested June 17, 2004, after an off-duty Clarke County sheriff's deputy found him -- semiconscious and suicidal after swallowing fireworks, pills and cough syrup -- slumped over the steering wheel of his 1997 Honda on Route 7. During videotaped interviews with Loudoun detectives, Mandanapu confessed to the slaying and begged to be given the death penalty.

Convicted of first-degree murder, he faces up to life in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for this morning.

The jury deliberated for eight hours yesterday, breaking twice for questions before reaching a verdict at 8 p.m. The deliberations capped a week-long trial in which prosecutors presented evidence that included photos of the victim's body and Mandanapu's nearly 10-hour videotaped interview with investigators.

Mandanapu, who immigrated to the United States from India a decade ago, buried his head in hands and began to cry as Loudoun County Circuit Judge Burke F. McCahill polled the jurors after the verdict was announced.

Mandanapu's parents, had who traveled to the trial from their home in Hyderabad, India, sobbed into handkerchiefs as their son was led away in handcuffs. Mandanapu's father, Venkateswarlu Mandanapu, 59, said in an interview that the murder charge was part of an "elaborate conspiracy" by his son's in-laws to blackmail his son for money.

"Divya was asking for money and materials," Venkateswarlu Mandanapu said. "They have trapped us for our money."

Mandanapu's attorney, James G. Connell III, made no mention of a conspiracy theory during the trial. Connell did say that the couple had argued about money that Divya Mandanapu was sending to her family in India shortly before she was killed.

Connell said that Loudoun investigators exploited Mandanapu's suicidal state after the slaying and coerced him into making a false confession by promising him the death penalty if he confessed and gave them details about the slaying.

During closing arguments yesterday, Connell also suggested that the real killer might still be at large. He said physical evidence gathered by investigators didn't point to his client. No DNA match was made on a cigarette butt found in the suitcase, and no blood was found in the car that Mandanapu was suspected of using to transport the body to the dumpsters, he said.

"The most disturbing idea is that the actual killer is out there," Connell told the jury.

Loudoun Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James P. Fisher scoffed at the suggestion that someone other than Mandanapu had committed the killing. He dismissed Connell's analysis of crime-scene evidence as little more than "an elaborate game of intellectual gymnastics."

"When you look at all these statements, these incriminating statements and confessions, and you look at the physical evidence, there's no other conclusion other than that this man is guilty of first-degree murder," Fisher said.

Divya Mandanapu's sister is expected to testify during the sentencing hearing today.

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