Commonwealth v. Yandamuri, 710 CAP

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation159 A.3d 503
Docket NumberNo. 710 CAP,710 CAP
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Raghunandan YANDAMURI, Appellant
Decision Date26 April 2017

159 A.3d 503

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Raghunandan YANDAMURI, Appellant

No. 710 CAP

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

SUBMITTED: October 20, 2016
DECIDED: April 26, 2017

Stephen G. Heckman, Esq., Henry S. Hilles III, Esq., Standby Counsel for Appellant.

Raghunandan Yandamuri, pro se.

Daniel Clase Bardo, Esq., Robert Martin Falin, Esq., Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, Kevin R. Steele, Esq., Amy Zapp, Esq., PA Office of Attorney General, for Appellee.




Appellant Raghunandan Yandamuri, acting pro se , appeals from two sentences of death imposed by the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court after a jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder and related offenses for the kidnapping of a ten-month-old baby and the murders of the baby and her grandmother. For the reasons that follow, we affirm Appellant's sentences of death.1

159 A.3d 508

I. Background

Appellant is of Indian decent, is not a citizen of the United States, and holds an advanced degree in electrical and computer science engineering.2 On October 20, 2012, Appellant attended a party with his wife in the Marquis Apartments located in King of Prussia, Montgomery County. Also present at the party were Chenchu and Venkata Venna, who had a ten-month-old daughter, Saanvi (hereinafter, "Baby"). Germane to this appeal, Baby's mother, Chenchu, was called "Latha" (hereinafter, "Latha" or "Mother") by close friends and family members, while Baby's father, Venkata, was called "Shiva" (hereinafter, "Shiva" or "Father"). During the evening, Mother told party goers that she had recently returned to work, and discussed the topic of grandparents babysitting the children of working parents. Mother also spoke about the gold jewelry that Baby was wearing. At one point during the party, Appellant held Baby.

Two days later, on October 22, 2012, Appellant returned to the Marquis Apartments wearing aviator glasses and a black hooded sweatshirt and knocked on the door of the Vennas' apartment. Baby's paternal grandmother, Satyavathi Venna (hereinafter, "Grandmother"), opened the door. Upon entering the apartment, Appellant brandished a four-inch knife in an attempt to kidnap Baby and hold her for ransom. When Appellant picked up Baby, a struggle ensued between Appellant and Grandmother. During the scuffle, Appellant fatally stabbed Grandmother in the throat so severely that the knife struck the bone three times.3 To silence Baby's cries during the altercation, Appellant removed a handkerchief from his pocket and stuffed it in her mouth. When the handkerchief would not stay in place, Appellant removed a hand towel from the bathroom and tied it around Baby's head to prevent the handkerchief from falling out.

Appellant then went to the bedroom, removed a blue suitcase from the closet, and collected all of the gold jewelry, including the gold bangles from Grandmother's wrists. Appellant also placed Baby into the suitcase and exited the apartment, ultimately leaving Baby in the men's sauna inside the gymnasium in the Marquis Apartments. After showering at his apartment, Appellant discarded the suitcase in a dumpster at the Lafayette Valley Forge Apartments in King of Prussia. He then discarded some of the stolen jewelry by throwing it in the river and placed the rest of the jewelry in a bag, which he concealed behind a vending machine in his office building.

Meanwhile, during her lunch break, Mother attempted to call Grandmother, but got no response. Father returned home to investigate and found Grandmother's dead body and that Baby was missing. Father called the police who discovered ten copies of a ransom note, strewn across the floor of the apartment. The ransom note addressed "Latha" and "Shiva" (Mother and Father, respectively) as opposed to the Vennas' formal names, and stated, "Shiva, your daughter has been kidnapped. If you report this to cops your daughter will be cut into pieces and found dead.... By 8 p.m. today, Lata [sic] alone should get $50,000.00 cash and come to Baja Fresh at Acme store complex." Commonwealth Exhibit C–26; N.T., Sep. 30, 2014, at 44. Under police supervision and

159 A.3d 509

wearing a body wire, Mother proceeded to the Baja Fresh store as instructed, but the kidnapper never made contact. Law enforcement searched the apartment complex multiple times, but did not find Baby.

To determine the identity of the kidnapper, detectives asked the Vennas for a list of individuals who used their informal names of "Latha" and "Shiva." The Vennas provided such list, which included Appellant's name. Detectives Paul Bradbury and Andrew Rathfon attempted to interview Appellant on October 25, 2012, three days after the kidnapping, when Baby's whereabouts were still unknown. They discovered that Appellant was at the Valley Forge Casino and made contact with him by asking casino security to escort him from the casino floor to a hallway where the detectives were waiting. The detectives, dressed in plain clothing, asked Appellant if he would accompany them to the Upper Merion Police Station to help with their investigation to find Baby. Without hesitation, Appellant voluntarily agreed and travelled to the station in Detective Bradbury's unmarked vehicle. The detectives informed Appellant that, after the questioning, they would return him to the casino to retrieve his car.

Upon arrival at the police station at 3:15 p.m., Appellant and the detectives proceeded downstairs to an office in the Detective Division. There was no security in the room and the door was closed for privacy reasons, but was not locked. The detectives told Appellant that they were seeking help in their investigation into Baby's kidnapping and informed him that he was free to leave and was not under arrest. The detectives also offered Appellant food and water and told him that he could go to the restroom unaccompanied when necessary. He accepted water, but not food.

Prior to the questioning, Detective Bradbury asked Appellant if he would consent to a search of the contents on his cell phone. Appellant agreed, executed the standard Montgomery County consent form, and gave his phone to the detectives. Appellant gave his first written statement between 3:27 p.m. and 6:03 p.m. pursuant to a question/answer format. He stated that on October 22, 2012, he had gone to work, went home for his lunch break around 11:30 a.m., and again returned home for the day around 1:30 p.m. after his wife had informed him of the incident. See Commonwealth Exhibit C–32; N.T. Sep. 30, 2014 at 103. He denied knowing who was responsible for the kidnapping and murder. During this questioning period, Appellant also consented to the search of his vehicle, which had been left at the casino. When the first written statement was completed, as occurred in connection with all subsequent written statements, Appellant was given an opportunity to review the statement, make corrections and/or additions, initial each page, and sign the document.

At approximately 6:30 p.m., upon the detectives' request, Appellant gave a second statement in a free flow format, which he later amended, describing his whereabouts and activities on the day of the murder with more detail than in his first statement. Commonwealth Exhibit C–34; N.T., Sep. 30, 2014, at 119. At about 7:30 p.m., Appellant executed a consent form, permitting a swab of the inside of his mouth to obtain a DNA sample. Appellant gave a third non-incriminating statement during the period from 7:37 p.m. to 8:07 p.m., which was conducted in a question/answer format, where the detectives asked Appellant follow-up questions regarding what he did at home during his lunch break on October 22, 2012. Appellant was reminded that he was free to leave and was not under arrest. Appellant took numerous breaks during the questioning,

159 A.3d 510

at which time he spoke about subjects unrelated to the offenses, including his Indian culture and his father. After each break, the detectives reminded Appellant that he was free to leave. Appellant never stated that he wanted the questioning to stop or that he desired counsel.

Appellant's fourth written statement was given from 8:50 p.m. through 9:25 p.m. Once again, Appellant was advised that he was free to leave and was not under arrest. Detectives asked him how he had cut his finger. Appellant responded that he scratched it while cleaning the trunk of his car the night before the incident and that his wife asked about his cut when he came home for lunch the next day. It was at this point that detectives asked Appellant to consent to a search of his apartment and to have his body photographed. Appellant agreed and executed the requisite consent forms at approximately 9:36 p.m.

Subsequently, during the period from 10:21 p.m. to 10:47 p.m., Appellant gave a fifth non-incriminating statement, expanding upon his previous comments regarding what occurred during his lunchbreak on October 22, 2012. At some point during the questioning, Detective Bradbury learned that Appellant's wife, who was pregnant at the time, contradicted his explanations of his whereabouts...

To continue reading

Request your trial
76 cases
  • In re Interest of T.W.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 20, 2021
    ...the suppression hearing record" and exclude from consideration "evidence elicited at trial." Commonwealth v. Yandamuri , 639 Pa. 100, 159 A.3d 503, 516 (2017). With our standard of review in mind, we turn to the issue at hand. This appeal concerns the contours of the protection against unre......
  • Villani v. Seibert, 66 MAP 2016
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 26, 2017 forms of action to the right involved"). When the Dragonetti Act was enacted, a majority of our sister states had already done away 159 A.3d 503with the "old English rule," and section 674 of Restatement (Second) of Torts (1977) reflects this trend while also eliminating the common law ......
  • Commonwealth v. Britton
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 22, 2020
    ...are supported by the record and whether the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct. Commonwealth v. Yandamuri , 639 Pa. 100, 159 A.3d 503, 516 (2017). Thus, our review of questions of law is de novo . Id. Our scope of review is limited to considering only the evidence of the C......
  • Commonwealth v. Valdivia, 9 MAP 2017
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 17, 2018
    ...bound by the suppression court's factual findings so long as they are supported by the record." Commonwealth v. Yandamuri , 639 Pa. 100, 159 A.3d 503, 516 (2017). There is no finding of fact that Valdivia was not informed by Trooper Hoy that the officers intended to conduct a canine sniff. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT