updated 6/27/2008 7:59:08 PM ET 2008-06-27T23:59:08

A businessman born in India was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for having his black daughter-in-law killed.

Jurors deliberated less than two hours before delivering the verdict in an Atlanta-area courtroom. A jury convicted 68-year-old Chiman Rai on Thursday of masterminding the death of Sparkle Michelle Rai. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for the Mississippi man.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Chiman Rai believed the 22-year-old woman brought shame to his family because she was black.

Sparkle Rai was found strangled and stabbed weeks after her wedding to Rai’s son, Ricky Rai, in March 2000.

Jurors found Chiman Rai guilty on seven charges, including felony murder and burglary.

“I’m feeling very much relieved,” said Bennet Reid, Sparkle’s father, said Thursday as he blinked through tears. “I feel justice has been served for my granddaughter and for my family. My daughter’s not going to come back, but she’s smiling now.”

Two images of defendant
Attorneys presented starkly contrasting images of Rai during the eight-day trial.

Prosecutors sought to portray him as a racist who was so upset that Ricky married and fathered a child with Sparkle that he shelled out $10,000 to have her killed. They called Rai’s ex-cellmate in the Fulton County Jail to testify that Rai called black people “scum.” They also 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 wanted his son to marry an Indian woman but who was far from a racist. They paraded a steady stream of Rai’s black customers and fellow inmates before the jury, and each described Rai as tolerant and compassionate.

Rai’s attorneys also reminded the jury that their client 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 Rai hired Sparkle Reid, an Atlanta native, as a clerk. They started dating in October 1998 and two months later she was pregnant with their daughter Analla. Sparkle was found dead in her apartment on April 26, 2000. Her 7-month-old daughter was nearby, unharmed.

Case unsolved for three years
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 contend Evans and Green lied 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.”

After the guilty verdict was read on Thursday, Rai buried his head in his hands, inches away from a small statue he’s had as a good luck charm through most of the trial.

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