A North Carolina teenager who strangled his mother after a disagreement over pizza was sentenced Nov. 30 to 12 to 15 years in state prison.
Indian American Arnav Uppalapati was 16 at the time he committed the heinous crime in his Cary, North Carolina home. But he is now 19 and will serve his sentence in prison rather than a juvenile detention center. Uppalapati himself called police after he strangled his mother, saying that intruders had entered the home. But from the start of the investigation, the boy was always considered a person of interest in the case. He pleaded guilty after his DNA was found at the crime scene.
According to prosecutors, on the night of the fatal strangling, Uppalapati angered his mother, Nalini Tellaprolu, 51 at the time of her death, by ordering a pizza. His mom allegedly slapped him. Uppalapati then grabbed a plastic bag, which he put over his mother’s head to choke her to death.
The boy then put his mother’s body in the garage of their home, then called 911 to say he found his dead mother after returning home from school.
Arnav’s father, Babu Uppalapati, was never considered a person of interest in the case as he was out of town on a business trip when his wife was killed. According to The News & Observer, Babu Uppalapati told his investigators that he repeatedly tried calling and texting his wife but got no response. He then contacted his son and told him to immediately check on her after he left school.
Police arriving at the home found no signs of forced entry. They also learned that Tellaprolu was very strict about activating her home alarm system. The victim’s body was covered in bruises and she had scratches on her face, neck, torso and arms.
The plastic bag over Tellaprolu\'s head was tested in a laboratory, in which the teenager\'s DNA was discovered at its knot. Uppalapati strangled his mother for at least four minutes, according to local news reports.
According to Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings, both Uppalapati\'s age and his confession played factors in deciding the length of his prison term, as reported by The News and Observer. However, he added the defense should consider the plea deal to be a “lenient sentence.” Officials said the sentence was the most lenient possible, given the severity of the crime.
Uppalapati\'s father and sister were in court, but he allegedly did not look at them as he was led away to begin his sentence, according to the newspaper.
Uppalapati’s sister has written a letter to the judge who sentenced her brother, but its contents have not yet been released.
The case shocked the local Indian American community, which was in disbelief that a boy who played in his high school marching band could have committed such an atrocious crime. Purnachandra Kondragunta, past president of the Triangle Area Telugu Association of North Carolina, told India-West in 2015: “I don’t believe Arnav could have done this.”
Nalini Tellaprolu had served on the board of directors for TATA-NC, and Kondragunta said she had spearheaded several cultural events for the association. “She was a very straightforward, dynamic lady,” he said.
Tellaprolu worked at the Duke University Health System, where she was a testing coordinator and quality assurance team leader. The 51-year-old woman had two children, Avani and Arnav. “She took a very high level of care with the children,” said Kondragunta. “Mother and son had a good relationship.”