June 11, 2014 at 8:32 pm

Novi man claims no memory of brutal killings of wife and children

Lakshminivasa Rao Nerusu (Novi Police Department)

Pontiac — A Novi man told an Oakland Circuit Court jury Tuesday he has no memory of the October 2008 killings of his wife and two children but “had to be insane” to have ended their lives.

Lakshminivasa Rao Nerusu, 46, was a fugitive for five years after the bodies of his 37-year-old wife, Jayalakshmi; a daughter, Tejasvi, 14, and a son, Siva Kumar, 12, were found inside their Novi home.

Nerusu, who is pleading insanity in the case, stabbed his wife 59 times and slashed the throats of his children when they returned home from school, according to investigators.

“I was blacked out ... I don’t have any memory of that incident,” he testified. “At the time I had so many problems. I’m lost. I didn’t know which one to give priority. I lost my mind.

“... We had an argument in the morning, that I remember. After that, I don’t know. I can’t recall what happened. I was completely blacked out.”

Nerusu testified he woke up on the floor of his home after the killings. He said he had no memory of covering or moving the bodies in the home or other events in the hours before or after the deaths.

“... What could be the reason for me to kill my loving family? I had to be insane.”

Investigators said Nerusu, an unemployed computer software programmer with a master’s degree in mathematics, fled to India the next day. He was arrested there in February 2013 and extradited to Michigan to face three counts of first-degree murder.

Nerusu has had two forensic exams — one by state psychiatrists in September 2013 and an independent evaluation in February — and is reportedly contesting findings that he is mentally competent.

Nerusu remains in the Oakland County Jail without bond.

Nerusu said he told doctors of “strange feelings” and “unusual experiences” of talking with non-existent people who approached him and of “shadows crawling on the walls.” Nerusu also told doctors that he tried to kill himself with an overdose of pills but vomited them up. He said he also thought of drowning himself in the Detroit River.

A finding of not guilty by reason of insanity would mean the jury would have to find that Nerusu did not realize the wrongfulness of the acts or was unable to control his actions. It would also mean Nerusu would be held in a state psychiatric facility until officials determine he no longer posed a threat to others or himself.

The charges of first-degree premeditated murder carry life in prison without parole.

Jurors could also consider guilty but mentally ill, which means Nerusu would be provided psychiatric treatment and medication while in prison.

Nerusu testified he had financial problems because of unemployment — he worked for several companies in California, Illinois and Michigan over the past decade. He also lost more than $130,000 in the stock market. He said the situation caused friction with his wife, who criticized him and told him he needed psychiatric counseling because of his temper. He said his wife once called police on him because of behavioral problems when he was working in Chicago. He said he never sought professional help because he didn’t think he had any problems.

“She blamed me for not taking care of money, always blaming me,” Nerusu testified. “I was always depressed, frustrated. I did not know how to handle the problems.”

The victims were found inside their Novi home in late October 2008 after a relative called police, expressing concern because no one had been able to contact the family. Nerusu’s wife and children all died from severe head and neck wounds, investigators said.

Police believe the victims were killed on Oct. 13, 2008, two weeks before the relative’s phone call, when Nerusu bought bandages at a local drug store.

Police have store videos that show Nerusu making the purchases that morning. They believe he suffered wounds in an attack on his wife, sought bandages for for himself and then returned home and waited for his children and killed them.

Assistant prosecutor Tricia Dare challenged Nerusu’s claims, and noted how he recalled he had a history of domestic violence, including when he slapped her during a final argument in which she threatened to call the police and have him put in jail.

The couple had argued over Nerusu’s desire to move back to India. She had encouraged him to find some kind of work to pay the bills, including working in a gas station.

Investigators found Nerusu was researching human anatomy and dismemberment on his computer the night before the deaths. Nerusu said he has no recollection of that computer activity, renting a car or visiting a travel agency to make arrangements to leave the country.

Nerusu said after nearly five years of living on the streets of India he finally surrendered to authorities because he was “traveling without a home” in his native country.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com
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