Latvian murder case: A sister’s fight for justice ends in a Kerala court holding two men guilty

Almost four years after a tourist was raped and murdered, a trial court will pronounce the quantum of punishment on Monday, 5 December.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 02, 2022 | 8:21 PMUpdatedDec 02, 2022 | 8:34 PM

Latvian murder Kerala

The Latvian tourist was nursing a headache when her younger sister last saw her alive on 14 March, 2018.

More than a month later, on 20 April 2018, the local police found a putrefied, decapitated body hanging over a branch with its feet touching the ground in a mangrove forest near Panathura in the neighbourhood of Kerala’s famed Kovalam beach.

The location was around 10 km from the Latvian sisters’ accommodation on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram city. The police, who had received a person-missing complaint, summoned the younger woman. She identified her sister’s body by the clothes.

On the fateful day, the older woman stayed back at their accommodation citing a headache even as her sister went for yoga practice — a session both women were supposed to attend.

Court finds two men guilty

On returning, the woman could not find her sister, and a search that was then launched, ended in the mangrove forest.

It, however, was the beginning of a long-drawn battle for justice.

The Latvian woman and her supporters even came out against the police probe. It also witnessed occasional slugfests between the government and the local activists who supported her.

Almost four years after her sister had gone missing, the second phase of the Latvian woman’s battle ended on Friday, 2 December.

A local court in Thiruvananthapuram found two men guilty of abducting, drugging, raping and murdering her sister. She is now waiting for the quantum of punishment judge Sanil Kumar of the First Additional Sessions Court is scheduled to pronounce on Monday, 5 December.

The judge also found the accused, Panathura residents P Udayan, 27, and KV Umesh, 31, guilty of destroying evidence.

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Final destination

The sisters had arrived in Kochi on 3 February, 2018, from Dublin, Ireland, where they had been living.

They stayed at the Mata Amritanandamayi Mutt at Vallikkavu in Kollam for four days, before heading to the Dharma Ayurveda Healing Centre at Pothencode in Thiruvananthapuram. In between, they had stayed in Varkala as well.

The victim was an ardent devotee of Mata Amritanandamayi.

The younger woman later told the police that her 33-year-old sister had been suffering from depression and other ailments. Though treated well, the doctor back home recommended Ayurveda therapy, which brought them to Kerala, she had then said.

The yoga session of 14 March, 2018, was part of the therapy.

After the younger woman had gone for the session, the victim left their accommodation and went to Kovalam, around 16 km from the city.

Udayan, an unauthorised tourist guide, noticed the woman on an isolated beach.

Fluent in many languages, Udayan did not have much difficulty in winning the woman’s confidence. He offered to take her to places of interest around Kovalam and took her to the mangrove forest in his fibre boat.

Meanwhile, Udayan had informed his friend Umesh, a drug peddler. He joined them in the mangrove forest, where the two men raped the woman after drugging her.

On regaining consciousness, she realised what had happened and screamed at the men. Fearing that she would alert the police, Udayan and Umesh strangulated her. To make her death look like a suicide, they hung the body from a branch.

Investigation revealed that the mangrove forest was a haven for local anti-social elements, especially drug peddlers. The police initially detained more than 15 people from the locality before narrowing down their probe to six men who frequented the area.

The real culprits were among the final six. During interrogation, Udayan and Umesh admitted to the crime.

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The search begins

The victim’s live-in companion, Andrew Jordan, came to Kerala on learning the woman was missing. He launched a vigorous campaign, including on the internet, to locate the Latvian. Posters were stuck all over the city and, later, ₹1 lakh was offered to anyone who could help find her.

The first lead came when an autorickshaw driver recognised the woman in the poster as one he had dropped off at Kovalam. The woman and her sister’s companion put up posters at the popular tourist destination as well, grabbing international attention.

After the body was found, the younger woman severely criticised the police for not arresting the culprits. After the men were arrested in May 2018, the then-state police chief Loknath Behra claimed that the woman had appreciated the scientific investigation.

The woman did not take her sister’s body home, though the state had offered her all help. Instead, she cremated the body in Thiruvananthapuram and flew back with an urn containing the ashes.

The trial

The trial in the case began on 1 June that year. The victim’s sister deposed before the court via video conferencing and even approached the high court seeking an order for a speedy trial.

She also appealed to the court, via the Latvian Embassy, to allow her to watch the trial. The request was granted, and perhaps for the first time, a foreign national watched the proceedings of an Indian court live.

The woman, however, missed the judge delivering the verdict on Friday. A technical glitch disrupted the streaming.

The prosecution presented 30 witnesses. Two of them later turned hostile. As many as 79 documents and eight pieces of evidence were also presented.

Documents included the post-mortem report that mentioned blood clots in the brain, arguably a sign of strangulation. The victim’s undergarments were also missing, suggesting rape.

One of the witnesses who turned hostile was a textile shop owner. He earlier said that the victim had bought a jacket from him. During the trial, he failed to recall such an incident.

The assistant chemical examiner of the Chemical Examiner’s Laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram told the court that drowning, too, could have led to the death. He said that the diatoms (microalgae found in waterbodies) found in the victim’s bone marrow matched with the micro-organisms in the water samples collected from the area.

He said diatoms could be detected in the victim’s bone marrow if she had drowned or had been forced to drink water.

While testifying before the court, Forensic Surgeon Dr Sasikala said the victim’s body bore clear signs of potentially fatal physical assault. The surgeon, however, could not confirm rape.