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US: Indian found guilty of killing son's black wife

June 27, 2008 11:18 IST

An Indian-origin professor-turned businessman in the United States has been found guilty of hiring hitmen to murder his black daughter-in-law a month after she wed his son as he opposed their inter-racial marriage.

Chiman Rai, 69, faces the death penalty for allegedly paying two men $10,000 to kill Sparkle Michelle Rai, an African American, in April 2000 after her marriage to his son Rajeev Rai alias Ricky, with whom she had a infant daughter.

The 22-year-old was found strangled and stabbed more than a dozen times at the couple's apartment.

The case grabbed headlines as an 'honour killing' after police arrested Chiman Rai and four others following a tip off two years ago.

A jury in Mississippi's Fulton County Rai guilty on seven charges, including felony murder and burglary, after two days of deliberations convinced that he was a racist and believed that the marriage would embarrass his family.

The prosecution has said it will seek death penalty against Rai, who immigrated with his family from India in 1970 and taught Maths at Alcorn State University in Mississippi for a decade before opening a supermarket and a hotel in Kentucky where Sparkle was an employee.

Chiman, 74-year old Willie Fred Evans, Herbert Green, 60, and the two alleged hired killers -- brothers Cleveland, 46, and 43-year-old Carl Clark were indicted in 2006.

Rai was nailed on crucial testimony of two co-defendants Evans and Green who admitted to helping set up the killing because Rai told them that his son had stolen thousands of dollars from his businesses and may have a pile of cash and drugs in the apartment. The two men got probation in exchange for testimony.

Defence lawyer Jack Martin said the case was strong on suspicion and weak on evidence of either motive or Rai's involvement, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

He contended Evans and Green, a business associate of Rai, cooked up the story when it was just as likely that the two elderly crooks had sent Clark over to rob Sparkle and Ricky.

The trial which started on June 16 now goes into the sentencing phase.

Rickey later married an Indian woman while Sparkle's parents are taking care of the couple's daughter.

"For my daughter and my granddaughter, this is the best thing that could have happened," said Bennet Reid. "My daughter finally got her voice."

For years, Reid said he had no idea who stabbed and strangled his daughter and never suspected her in-laws.

Evans and Green had lied to investigators repeatedly and Evans even admitted to lying on the witness stand. "You can have hundred liars testify to something and it is not worth anything," Martin told jurors.

The defence lawyers contended there was little evidence that Rai was a racist and brought in more of a dozen witnesses -- mostly African-American -- who said Rai was a stalwart citizen in the black neighbourhood in which he did business.

He had also taught at Alcorn State University and studied at the then-Atlanta University, two historically black schools.

But prosecutors told jurors they relied on Rai's own words, recorded by Green for investigators.  

"You were the one handling all that," Rai said on the tape after Herbert Green alluded to sending a hit man to Atlanta on Rai's behalf. "I know nothing about that. There is nothing on me."

Sridhar Krishnaswami
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