Gym trainer guilty of Dell staffer's murder

Sensational revenge killing sees conviction after nine years

A gym instructor has been found guilty in the sensational murder of Dell staffer Payal Surekha that rocked Bengaluru nine years ago. It was a cold-blooded murder for revenge, a CBI court ruled on Wednesday. 

The 32nd CBI Special Judge, K Shivaram, sentenced James Kumar Ray to life imprisonment and fined him Rs 1 lakh. 

Surekha, 29, was found with her throat slit in the bedroom of her JP Nagar flat on December 17, 2010. She was tied up to the bed, and there were stab wounds all over her body. Some of her valuables — among them a laptop and a mobile phone — were missing. 

The case saw many twists and turns. 

The JP Nagar police initially suspected Surekha’s husband, Anant Narayan Mishra, who claimed to have been in his hometown of Cuttack, Odisha, on the day of the murder. Surekha’s family aired similar suspicions. But within two weeks, police arrested Ray from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, and later charged him with murder.

Ray once worked at a gym run by Mishra but had been sacked for his “dishonest” dealings. 

The victim’s family, however, kept accusing her husband and moved the Supreme Court, demanding a probe by the CBI. The top court allowed their prayer in 2013. But the CBI probe only reinforced the Bengaluru police’s line of investigation. The CBI charged Ray in 2015. 

Surekha hailed from Assam and had married Mishra, her classmate, in 2008. Mishra ran two gyms: one in Bengaluru and another in Cuttack. Ray was a friend of his and managed the Cuttack gym. But things soured between them after Ray started posing as the owner, misused the funds and had affairs with some of the female customers. 

When Mishra learnt about all this, he castigated Ray in front of all the gym trainees and asked him to mend his ways. He also asserted that Ray was just an employee, not the owner. Ray felt deeply insulted and vowed revenge by killing Surekha. 

The accused started tailing Mishra and learnt that he would be travelling from Bengaluru to Cuttack on December 16, 2010. He also found out that Surekha would be alone in their JP Nagar home. 

Ray, who was in Hyderabad at that time, reached Bengaluru on the morning of December 17, 2010, bought a sharp knife from the Majestic area and reached Surekha’s JP Nagar flat. 

Payal welcomed him and offered tea. Ray lured her into the bedroom where he suddenly grabbed her neck from behind, forced her on the bed and slit her throat. He then turned her on the back, tied her to the bed and inflicted injuries on her chest, neck and abdomen. Once she was dead, he covered her body with a bedspread. 

He later went to Puttenahalli Lake, washed the bloodstains on his jeans and jersey and threw them in the lake, along with the knife. 

B R Shivananda Perla, the CBI public prosecutor who argued the case, said scientific evidence and an eyewitness testimony resulted in Ray’s conviction. 

Police recovered the bloodstained jersey, the knife and Ray’s spectacles. A forensic examination concluded that a strand of hair found on the jersey was Surekha’s. The blood on the knife was the victim’s. Ray’s hair was found in Surekha’s home. 

But above all, a neighbour had seen Ray enter and leave the apartment complex where Surekha lived. He identified the accused during the identification parade. 

S K Umesh, then the JP Nagar police inspector, described the case as the “toughest” of his career. Now a deputy superintendent of police in the Internal Security Division, he said Ray forged Mishra’s call detail record to show his presence in Bengaluru on the day of the murder and misled Surekha’s parents who moved the top court, seeking a reinvestigation. But forensic evidence nailed Ray, Umesh said. 

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