ATLANTA – A grocery store owner was convicted Thursday of plotting to have his black daughter-in-law killed because she was not Indian.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Chiman Rai, 68, on charges that he masterminded the murder of Sparkle Michelle Rai. The 22-year-old was found strangled with a vacuum cord and stabbed more than a dozen times weeks after her March 2000 wedding to Rai's son, Ricky Rai.
Jurors reached the verdict on the second day of deliberations. They found Chiman Rai guilty on seven charges, including felony murder and burglary. The trial next goes into the sentencing phase, when the same jury will decide whether Rai should die for his crimes.
Attorneys portrayed starkly contrasting images of Rai during the eight-day trial.
Prosecutors said the native of India was so upset that Ricky married and fathered a child with Sparkle Michelle Reid that he shelled out $10,000 to have her killed. They pointed to statements from Ricky Rai, who told investigators after the killing that his father was "a little racist."
Defense attorneys depicted Rai as a hardworking businessman who taught math at Alcorn State University, a historically black college in Mississippi, and later ran a supermarket in a predominantly black area in Jackson. He also helped buy a hotel in Louisville, Ky., where he made Ricky the general manager in 1998.
Ricky hired Sparkle Reid, an Atlanta native, as a clerk. They started dating in October 1998 and two months later she was pregnant with daughter Analla.
Weeks after the couple married, Sparkle Michelle was found dead in her apartment. Her 7-month-old daughter was nearby, unharmed.
Investigators found little evidence and the case remained unsolved until two witnesses came forward in 2004, a breakthrough investigators said helped them connect the killing to Chiman Rai.
Prosecutors said Rai teamed up with Willie Fred Evans and Herbert Green to serve as middlemen for the hit squad, and both testified in court they arranged the killing. Both have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors. They are expected to receive probation.
Prosecutors say the money was passed to brothers Cleveland and Carl Clark and that Cleveland, who also faces the death penalty, carried out the killing.
Defense attorneys say Evans and Green are lying to cover up their role in the killing, which they say had the look of a robbery gone bad. They suggest that Evans and Green plotted the killing, perhaps in pursuit of drug money, and they pounded prosecutors for giving the two a "sweetheart deal" in exchange for their cooperation.
"You could have 100 liars testify to something," said Jack Martin, Rai's attorney. "And it's not worth anything."