NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — A family friend accused of killing an infant and her grandmother in a botched ransom plot told jurors he was "at the wrong place, wrong time" as he delivered his own opening statement Thursday at his capital murder trial.
Raghunandan Yandamuri, 28, a former information technology worker, is serving as his own lawyer. He knew the infant's parents, both software engineers, from their suburban Philadelphia apartment complex.
In a videotaped police statement after the October 2012 crime, Yandamuri said he had not intended to kill the victims and described losing $15,000 at a Valley Forge casino near his office the week before.
However, in court Thursday, he insisted the statement was coerced and said two men had forced him to lead them to the victims' apartment in King of Prussia.
Prosecutors believe the grandmother, 61-year-old Satyavathi Venna, was fatally stabbed while trying to fight off the intruder as she babysat during a visit from India.
Yandamuri, in his police statement, said he accidentally dropped the girl, 10-month-old Saanvi Venna, and then put a handkerchief over her mouth to quiet her. The girl, dressed in a white dress, was found dead beside an unused sauna in the basement.
Assistant District Attorney Samantha Cauffman told jurors they will see "the true evil festering in his core," The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The trial judge will allow the jury to hear evidence about Yandamuri's gambling debts. He had previously filed for bankruptcy in California.
The ransom note sought $50,000 and used family nicknames for the parents, Venkata Venna and his wife, Chenchu Latha Punuruss. Yandamuri had been to the family's apartment for the wife's birthday party, according to police.
Yandamuri has a standby lawyer prepared to argue against the death penalty if he is convicted.