Attorney: Friend is suspect in UF death


Published: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 4:04 a.m.

Last week, Praveen Kumar Vedam spoke to a crowd in memory of his friend and former roommate Sudheer Reddy Satti, found stabbed earlier this month in his on-campus apartment.

On Friday, Vedam, 25,the 25-year-old was in jail, accused of stealing Satti's missing laptop computer.

And, Vedam's attorney said, even though he hasn't been charged with murder, it's clear he's a suspect in Satti's death.

"From the information I have now, they think that he was involved in killing his best friend," Gainesville attorney Robert Rush said. "This is a traditional investigative method that you will start with whatever charge you have enough on so that you can keep the person in custody."

Satti, a University of Florida graduate assistant, was found stabbed in the bedroom of his Maguire Village apartment on Jan. 4. He was last seen on Dec. 31. Sources close to the case have said he was stabbed more than 30 times in the head and torso.

Vedam remained in jail late Friday in lieu of a $50,000 bond. At his first court appearance earlier in the day, State Attorney Bill Cervone had sought a higher bond figure - $500,000.

So far, Vedam faces only a theft charge, a third-degree felony punishable by as much as five years in prison. Court officials said he has no criminal history.

At the hearing, Rush said the evidence against Vedam is circumstantial.

Alachua County Judge Jim Nilon ordered the bond and said Vedam, a citizen of India, must surrender his passport and will be placed on electronic monitoring if he makes bond and is released from jail.

At this point the main evidence investigators have released linking Vedam to theft is the discovery of a laptop computer case at Nanoptics, where he works as a software programmer.

Stephan Tuchman, president of Nanoptics, told police on Jan. 16 he saw Vedam using a laptop computer that police said is like one missing from Satti's apartment.

Police have not located the computer, Rush said.

Additional electronic equipment missing from Satti's apartment, including a home theater system, also haven't been located, University Police Lt. Joe Sharkey said. Investigators have expanded the search for the equipment, notifying agencies statewide so businesses such as pawn shops can be on the lookout for the missing items.

Investigators found the laptop computer case fitting the description of Satti's case in an air duct in the attic at Nanoptics. A San Francisco Bay city guide was found in the case. It is similar to one a friend said Satti used when they traveled to San Francisco in early December.

By tracing computer accounts and information unique to the missing computer, police also learned it had been used at Nanoptics between Jan. 9 and Jan. 11.

But Rush questioned the theft charge against Vedam.

"It seems awfully slim to try and say because someone used that computer after his death and that it came from the lab where his friend works that he stole the computer. I think that in an effort to try and solve this they have drawn some erroneous conclusions from some pieces of circumstantial evidence," he said.

Rush, who met with Vedam on Friday, said he is convinced his client was not involved in Satti's death but did not elaborate on what information he had.

"He is very, very upset about the death of his friend and just so upset that anyone would think that he was involved in his friend's death," Rush said.

Satti and Vedam were roommates at an off-campus apartment for 2 years, Rush said.

Satti moved on campus in May 2003. Brent Whitfield, who met Satti when he started graduate school in 2001, said Satti had always wanted to live in Maguire Village and had been on a waiting list. The on-campus apartment was convenient, affordable and offered him more space.

Whitfield said he did not know Vedam well, except as a friend and roommate of Satti's. Tuchman would not talk about the case, but talked a little about Vedam.

"He always seemed like a nice guy. We've never had a problem with him up until this thing started," he said.

Vedam graduated with a master's degree in electrical and computer engineering in December 2002, according to UF records. He also had applied for graduate school in engineering.

Rush said Vedam had previously allowed police to search his apartment and car.

Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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