The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Latest News

November 28, 2012

Suspect in baby, grandma deaths had casino losses

BRIDGEPORT — A young man mired in gambling debts told police he killed a 10-month-old girl and her grandmother during a botched kidnapping after losing at least $15,000 at a casino near his office.

Raghunandan Yandamuri, 26, knew the family from his apartment complex. Like him, the baby's parents were young technology professionals from India. He had gone to the wife's birthday party, met the visiting grandmother and — tellingly — used family nicknames in a ransom note demanding $50,000.

"They both are working, so I thought maybe they have some money," Yandamuri told police in a videotaped statement played at his preliminary hearing Wednesday, during which a suburban Philadelphia judge ordered him to stand trial on murder, kidnapping and other charges.

"My intention was not to kill anyone or not to harm anyone," he said. "I only tried to kidnap the baby."

Yandamuri told investigators he panicked after the grandmother, who had opened the apartment door to him on Oct. 22, was killed in a struggle over a kitchen knife he had brought.

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

He said he returned hours later with milk for her, but found her "unconscious."

Yandamuri was arrested days later as police, given the nicknames in the ransom note, zeroed in on people who knew the couple.

Venkata Venna, and his wife, Chenchu Latha Punuruss, did not know of anyone with a grudge against them. They are both software engineers who came to the U.S. in 2007.

They had left for work about 8 a.m. that Monday, leaving their only child with Venna's mother, 61-year-old Satyavathi Venna, who was visiting from India. Venna raced home at 12:30 p.m. when his mother didn't answer the phone. He found her in a pool of blood, and discovered his daughter was missing.

Yandamuri worked in information technology for GSI Commerce Inc., a unit of eBay Inc. that builds e-commerce sites for other businesses. Its office in King of Prussia, Pa., is less than a mile from the Valley Forge Casino Resort.

When asked by police if he had a gambling problem, he replied "a bit."

"Last week I lost $15,000 to $20,000, but last month I won $20,000," he said on the videotape.

He said he had cleared most of his debts through a March bankruptcy filing in California.

Those records show that Yandamuri had amassed $26,000 in credit card debts since 2008, most of it on six accounts he opened in 2011. He was making $6,500 a month at the time, and netting $4,500 after taxes and deductions, he said. He reported sending $600 a month to his parents in India.

Yandamuri moved to the Philadelphia area from San Jose in May, about the same time his wife was expected to come to the U.S., the bankruptcy filings show. She has since returned to India, defense lawyer Stephen Heckman said Wednesday.

Yandamuri told police that he drafted the ransom note on his computer at work and left 10 copies at the apartment. After the slayings, he showered and returned to work, he said. Later that week, he made and distributed fliers to help in the search for the missing baby.

The victims' relatives moaned as they watched him re-enact the crime with a detective during the taped interview. Venkata Venna was among them, but his wife chose to wait in a nearby room.

Heckman tried to have the first-degree murder charges dismissed, arguing that his client lacked the intent to kill required for a conviction. However, a district judge said there was enough evidence to send the first-degree murder, felony murder and the other counts to trial.

Heckman hopes to help his client avoid the death penalty, which is under consideration by prosecutors.

"I'll have to talk to my client and see what he wants to do," Heckman said. "He was very sorry for what happened."

Kevin Steele, first assistant district attorney of Montgomery County, called the murders "vicious."

"This is one of those cases that haunts you," Steele said.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

  • Homicides linked to center

    Three homicides that took place in Johnstown last year involved either a suspect or victim who previously resided in the Community Corrections Center.
    Police Chief Craig Foust confirmed the name of one victim, who spent almost two months in the facility on Washington Street during 2007, a time period verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

    April 19, 2014

  • bachota Volunteers helping to spruce up community

    Walls and ceilings inside the Cambria County Library look clean and bright with fresh new coats of paint on them.
    The work was recently done by inmates from the Johnstown Community Corrections Center.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • alanna Hartzok targets income disparity

    Alanna Hartzok described herself as being a conservative progressive.
    The Franklin County resident said she is in favor of conserving environmental resources, education opportunities, Social Security and Medicare, while wanting to progressively address wealth inequality, health care and taxation.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Schools rise to leadership challenge

    Forest Hills and Cambria Heights high school students put the spirit of healthy competition toward a good cause and picked up some lessons in leadership along the way.

    April 19, 2014

  • KATEY LADIKA Student’s photos win awards

    A Forest Hills High School junior has captured several awards in a high school arts and writing contest that has identified greats such as Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local briefs 4/20/2014

    April 19, 2014

  • Biggest student loan profits come from grad students

    This week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal government would earn roughly $127 billion from student lending during the next 10 years.

    April 19, 2014

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 19, 2014

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads