By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Prathap Rajamani had been looking forward to this day. The chemical he'd ordered online had just arrived.
Chloroform, a colorless liquid with a slightly sweet taste, is used today to produce Freon. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was used as an anesthetic. That fit Rajamani's plans perfectly.
Rajamani, a native of India, was a 22-year-old graduate student majoring in software engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas. He'd arrived at the school in August 2004 and lived in UTD's Waterview Park, a sprawling complex of more than 1,200 apartments and the largest private dormitory in Texas. Now, on the evening of November 18, he planned to meet with another UTD student we'll call Amy. She and Rajamani shared two classes, and Amy considered him a friend. She'd invited Rajamani to her Waterview apartment to study that night.
He had other intentions.
The two began studying in Amy's living room. Some time after 5 p.m., Amy went to check on clothes she was washing. While she was gone, Rajamani pulled out a bottle of chloroform he'd hidden in his pocket and poured it on a white handkerchief. When Amy returned and sat down on the sofa, Rajamani grabbed her and squeezed the handkerchief against her nose and mouth. She fought hard, but Rajamani held the cloth tight for about 10 seconds even as it became soaked with Amy's blood. She slipped into unconsciousness.
Rajamani opened Amy's shirt and pants and had sex with her.
She remained unconscious for 10 to 15 minutes. Later, she fled the apartment located in what is known as phase 2 of Waterview Park. At a nearby pay phone, Amy called 911. At about 6:20 p.m., two detectives, an officer and a sergeant with the UTD Police Department, arrived and spoke to her. Then an ambulance took Amy to Parkland hospital.
Shortly after 7 p.m., Detectives Steve Finney and Chris Dickson knocked on the door of Rajamani's apartment. They asked about Amy. Rajamani admitted he'd drugged her with chloroform, then had sex with her. One detective read Rajamani his Miranda rights; then Rajamani led the detectives to the trash bin where he'd thrown the bottle of chloroform and the blood-soiled handkerchief. Rajamani had one comment: "He asked if she was OK."
Finney took Rajamani to the Richardson City Jail, then wrote an affidavit from which this account is taken. Rajamani, meanwhile, posted a $50,000 bond and was out of jail within 24 hours.
News of the assault would have been chilling to the extreme for any young woman living in the huge Waterview complex, which offered little in the way of security. But contrary to the practices of many universities in Texas and around the country, UTD did not issue a crime alert informing students about Rajamani or the sexual assault to which he'd confessed.
UTD Police Chief Colleen Ridge said there was no need. "Since he was taken into immediate custody, he's not a threat," she said in an interview.
After bonding out of jail, Rajamani promptly returned to his third-floor apartment in phase 4 of Waterview. He recently told the Dallas Observer that UTD officials allowed him to stay there until the semester ended in December. Asked if this was correct, UTD officials declined to comment.
In January, a Dallas County grand jury indicted Rajamani on one count of aggravated sexual assault. The "deadly weapon," according to the indictment, was chloroform. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
UTD officials told the Observerthat Rajamani no longer lives at Waterview. "He is not [a student], nor does he live on campus," Detective Finney said in an interview in late March.
That same day, however, two Observerreporters spoke with Rajamani--at Waterview.
He was smoking a cigarette while sitting on the third-floor balcony of what had been his apartment. He readily agreed to talk. In a subsequent interview, Rajamani was reluctant to discuss what happened on November 18 but acknowledged he'd confessed to having drugged and raped Amy. Rajamani said he confessed because he didn't understand his legal rights and because he believed it would help the doctors treating Amy. "I thought she was going to die," he said.
Rajamani said he now attends Tarleton State University in Stephenville. He said he returned to Waterview during spring break and stayed in his former apartment for a few days, though UTD officials had told him he was prohibited from returning to campus. He also said UTD officials made the right decision in not issuing a crime alert after arresting him. "The incident was between me and my friend," he said. "I didn't do offense to someone I didn't know."
Rajamani's former neighbors at Waterview don't see it that way. They had no idea he'd confessed to drugging and raping a fellow student. UTD officials should have told them, they say.
Sandya Narasimhaprasad, Srinath's wife, shuddered when told about Rajamani. A graduate student at UTD majoring in computer engineering, she is eight months pregnant. "It's very scary," she says. "The same thing could have happened to me."