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Cary teen pleads guilty to strangling mother in case that shocked Indian community

Cary teen pleads guilty to strangling mother in case that shocked Indian community

Arnav Uppalapati pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 in the 2015 homicide of his mother Nalini Tellaprolu, 51. He will serve between 12 and 15 years in prison.
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Arnav Uppalapati pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 in the 2015 homicide of his mother Nalini Tellaprolu, 51. He will serve between 12 and 15 years in prison.

Arnav Uppalapati strangled his strict-minded mother after their tense relationship boiled over and she slapped him, disapproving because he had ordered a pizza, prosecutors said Friday.

The Cary teen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2015 homicide that shocked Wake County’s Indian community, making headlines worldwide for the death of Nalini Tellaprolu, 51.

Uppalati will serve between 12 and 15 years in prison, a sentence officials described as “the absolute most lenient” considering his age and immaturity.

Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said Uppalapati fit the profile of a normal teen, studying hard at Green Hope High School but wanting fun on the side — maybe playing in a band or having a girlfriend.

“His mother was strict,” Cummings said, “wanting him to put his emphasis on his education. It was all just bottled up inside.”

On a night in November 2015, with his father out of town on business, Uppalapati ordered a pizza delivered and angered his mother. They argued, Cummings said, and when she slapped him, he choked her. The prosecutor noted the teen would have had to hold his mother’s neck for three to four minutes.

He then dragged her to the garage, thought about taking her to the hospital and tried unsuccessfully to place her in her car.

“He already put a bag over her head because he didn’t want to see her face,” Cummings said.

Uppalapati, 16 at the time of the murder, avoided arrest for more than a year while police investigated the 2015 killing.

At the time of her death, friends described Nalini Tellaprolu as a doting mother, staying up late to prepare snacks for her son while he toiled over homework.

Nalini_Tellaprolu
Nalini Tellaprolu was found strangled in her garage on Dec. 17, 2015. Her son, Arnav Uppalapati, 17, was charged on Thursday, March 16, 2017, with murder in her death. Courtesy of Padma Tummala

After calling 911, the teen told police he had last seen his mother alive on the night before she died. He said he returned home from school the next day to discover her body in the garage. An autopsy showed she had been strangled with a plastic bag over her head, her feet in the back seat of a car.

At the time, Babu Uppalapati told investigators about repeatedly calling and texting his wife without reaching her, then telling his son to check on her immediately after school.

Detectives learned that Tellaprolu was adamant about activating her home alarm system, and District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said the absence of forced entry made the son a suspect early in the investigation.

Investigators sent the plastic bag for laboratory testing, which discovered the teen’s DNA on its tightly tied knot. Afterward, Cummings said, Uppalapati confessed.

Defense attorney Ryan Willis called the case a tragedy. Uppalapati did not speak during Friday’s hearing.

Cummings said the teen’s age and his confession were crucial factors in deciding the length of his prison term. He compared the murder to a domestic violence case.

“I believe sometimes when you snap,” he said, “it’s because things are bottled up.”

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.

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