Defense: Jury might not have imposed death penalty in murders had defendant expressed remorse



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NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — The defense attorney for a man sentenced to death in the murders of a baby and her grandmother in what prosecutors called a botched kidnapping plot says he believes jurors might have spared his client's life if he had expressed remorse.

The Montgomery County jury deliberated for about 3½ hours before imposing the death penalty Tuesday night on Raghunandan Yandamuri, 27, who was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder in the 2012 slayings of 10-month-old Saanvi Venna and Satayrathi Venna, 61, in King of Prussia.

Prosecutors said they hoped the outcome would help the parents of the child deal with their loss.

"This has been a difficult two years for them," First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele said. "They lost their mother, their 10-month-old daughter. It was heart-wrenching to hear what they've gone through."

Attorney Henry Hilles, who represented Yandamuri during the penalty phase, said he was disappointed by the verdict, but not surprised. He said he had tried to prepare his client for the possibility of the death penalty.

"I felt that if he had expressed remorse, he would have had a better chance at saving his life," Hilles said. He said he didn't know whether Yandamuri, who represented himself during his trial, would do so again during the expected appeals process.

Authorities said Yandamuri had planned to kidnap the child in hopes of gaining money to pay gambling debts after losing at least $15,000 at a casino near his office. Yandamuri told investigators that he panicked after the grandmother, who had opened her family's apartment door to him, was killed in a struggle over a kitchen knife he had carried.

He told police he accidentally dropped the baby, put a handkerchief over her mouth to quiet her and tied a towel around her head. He said he then left the baby — with her dark hair, huge dark eyes and white dress — in a trash-strewn, unused sauna in a basement fitness center, and when he returned hours later with milk for her, she was unconscious.

During his trial, however, Yandamuri argued that two other men he identified only by their first names forced him at gunpoint to help. He said he was pressured by police into confessing.

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