How the AJC covered the Sparkle Rai case from ‘ATL Homicide’

From the archives: Race was motive in newlywed's murder by father-in-law in contract killing
Sparkle Rai was murdered April 26, 2000, in her Union City apartment in the presence of her infant daughter.

Credit: WXIA

Credit: WXIA

Sparkle Rai was murdered April 26, 2000, in her Union City apartment in the presence of her infant daughter.

The TV One true-crime series "ATL Homicide" covered the murder of Sparkle Rai in its fifth episode. Rai was found dead in her Union City home in 2000. The case remained cold for years until her father-in-law was implicated in hiring a hit man to kill her.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did not report on the killing but picked up the story in 2006 when her father-in-law became a suspect. The paper covered the 2008 trial of Chiman Rai and the 2009 trial of the contract killer Cleveland Clark.

Here are some of the key articles from those trials as the AJC covered them.

"ATL Homicide" recreates Atlanta murder cases as told by David Quinn and Vince Velazquez, two retired Atlanta Police Department homicide detectives. Previous episodes featured the cases of Tereon GrantAlan WatsonShaquilla Weatherspoon and John Ray.


 Chiman Rai (center, seen here during his  2008 trial), is an Indian immigrant who had his daughter-in-law Sparkle Reid Rai killed because she was African-American.

Credit: Joey Ivansco/AJC

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Credit: Joey Ivansco/AJC

From Sept. 24, 2006: 

2000 slaying in Fulton linked to father-in-law 

By Jeffry Scott

Sparkle Michelle Rai was killed six years ago, stabbed and strangled to death in her Union City apartment — a seemingly random murder. Police said there was little evidence, no motive and no obvious suspects.

On Friday, the 22-year-old woman's death began to make sense — in the worst and most unbelievable way.

Five men were charged in what Fulton County prosecutors say was a contract killing.

Rai's Indian father-in-law paid $10,000 to have her killed because he wanted her out of his family and his son wouldn't divorce her, prosecutors said in an indictment released Friday.

"It was cultural," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said on Saturday. "Her father-in-law couldn't accept her marriage to his son because she was not Indian, and that was further escalated by that the fact that she was an African-American woman."

The father-in-law, Chiman Rai, 67, of Louisville, Ky., was among those indicted in the scheme that allegedly involved two brothers in Mississippi — the alleged killer, Cleveland Clark, 49, and Carl Clark, 43, both held in Mississippi prison on unrelated armed robbery charges — and two other men who investigators say helped arranged the hit: Willie Fred Evans, 74, and Herbert Green, 60, both of Louisville.

The men are charged in a seven-count indictment with murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary, possession of a firearm and knife during the commission of a felony and conspiracy to commit crime.

Rai is in custody at Jefferson County Metro Corrections in Louisville, on $1 million cash bond. Howard said an extradition hearing probably will be held Monday. "We don't know if he will fight extradition or not," he said. "But we hope to have all five here in custody in 30 to 60 days."

Howard said Rai's husband, Rajeeve Rai, who has since moved to Chicago and remarried, had been questioned in the killing as recently as Thursday night, before he took the case to the grand jury and got the indictments.

"He maintains he has no connection to this incident," said Howard.

Rajeeve Rai could not be reached for comment Saturday. He discovered his wife's body in their Flat Shoals Road apartment on April 26, 2000, and called police. Her body was just inside the front door, which was locked from the inside.

The couple met in Louisville. They had just moved to Union City and had only been married about a month when she was murdered. They had a 7-month-old child, Analla, who was in the apartment at the time of her murder.

Sparkle's father, Bennet Reid Jr., said on Saturday that he and Sparkle's stepmother, WXIA-TV reporter Donna Lowry, adopted the child in February. They have been the guardians of the girl since the night Sparkle was found dead.

"I waited so long to adopt her because I didn't want to erase the memory of my child," said Reid.


Dr. Michael Henniger of the Fulton County Medical Examiners office identifies the picture on the monitor as Sparkle Rai during the 2008 murder trial of Chiman Rai.

Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

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Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

From Oct. 29, 2006: 

Kin, community grapple with young wife's slaying 

By Beth Warren and Jeffry Scott

As far as Sparkle Reid knew, her fiance's parents were dead. And in an odd way, her family said, that brought her comfort on her wedding day.

His parents had opposed her relationship with Rajeeve "Ricky" Rai because she was African-American and he was Indian, even going so far as to offer her $10,000 to break up with him, Reid's family said.

She believed Rai's story that his mother was crushed to death in an earthquake in India the year before and that his father died of diabetes a few months later, police said.

In fact, Rai's parents were alive on the day of the couple's wedding before a justice of the peace in Fulton County. And, when his 67-year-old father, Chiman Rai, found out days later that his son had married Sparkle Reid, investigators say he set in motion a murderous scheme to have her killed.

A month later, investigators said, a contract killer showed up at the door of the newlywed's Union City apartment, along with two women pretending to deliver a package.

When 22-year-old Sparkle Rai opened the door, the 300-pound ex-con attacked her with such savagery she didn't have time to throw up her arms and shield herself from his knife, a Union City detective said. She was stabbed at least 13 times in the back, neck, chest and ribs. She was strangled and her throat slit.

Her husband, then 20, found her bloody body when he came home from work, police said. The couple's 7-month-old daughter, Analla, was unharmed in the next room.

Rai was questioned through the night, but the break in the case came four years later when one of the women who accompanied the alleged hit man to Sparkle Rai's house was arrested on a drug charge by Atlanta Police. She told them she knew who killed Sparkle Rai — and that she and a friend witnessed the killing.

The women's stories led to what authorities now say was a murder plot concocted by Ricky Rai's 67-year-old father.

"I think almost from the beginning his family opposed their relationship," said Lt. Lee Brown, an investigator with the Union City police department. "They're Indian, and it was real taboo for him to marry outside the family, and it was even more taboo for him to marry a black girl."

Prosecutors say Chiman Rai paid $10,000 for the contract killing of his son's wife and should get the death penalty. Through his Decatur attorney, Michael McDaniel, Rai insists he had no hand in the killing. Some of his former colleagues and friends, who are African-American, say they believe him.

Rai, now in the Fulton County Jail, allegedly asked a former business associate to find a hit man. That associate contacted another middleman, authorities said. The alleged hit man, Cleveland Clark, 49, of Jackson, Miss., and his brother, Carl Clark, 43, who police said drove the getaway car after the murder, are in Mississippi prisons, serving time for separate robberies. Cleveland Clark also has served time for molestation, hostage-taking and shooting at police. The two will be brought to Atlanta on Tuesday for a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court.

Secrets raise suspicions 

Sparkle Reid, a bubbly former cheerleader, met Ricky Rai in July 1998, in Louisville, Ky., where she had moved to live with her grandmother after flunking out of college in Georgia. She landed a job as a desk clerk at a Travelodge Hotel, where Rai was general manager. He hired her and, six months later, she was pregnant with his child.

Sparkle's father, Bennet Reid Jr., and stepmother Donna Lowry said that Rai's family seemed at first to approve of their 18-year-old son dating a black woman. "Her grandmother said Sparkle told her they liked her," said Lowry, a reporter for WXIA-TV.

The couple moved to Atlanta in May 1999. It's unclear when the Rai family began to have problems with the relationship. Reid and Lowry said their daughter told them Ricky's family offered her $10,000 to break up with their son.

In October 1999, Sparkle gave birth to a daughter Ricky Rai named Analla. He told his wife it was an Indian name meaning "fiery one."

Fulton County prosecutor Sheila Ross shows an electrical cord from a vacuum cleaner to Dr. Michael Henniger of the Fulton County Medical Examiners office during the 2008 murder trial of Chiman Rai. The cord was one of the items used in the death of Sparkle Reid Rai, prosecutors said.

Credit: Joey Ivansco/AJC

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Credit: Joey Ivansco/AJC

Bennet Reid said his daughter was evasive when he asked about marriage and told him the Rai family "had an Indian woman set aside for [Ricky] to marry."

But, at some point, he told his wife his parents had died, police said.

Reid said he learned on their wedding day, March 21, 2000, that Ricky's parents were alive. A relative had overheard Rai on the telephone. He never trusted his new son-in-law after that.

Two days later, Rai was screaming at Sparkle's aunt for calling his parents in Kentucky and telling them about the marriage, according to a Union City police report.

Lowry said she believes news of the marriage provoked Chiman Rai to hire a hit man. "The wedding itself led to her death," she said.

Acquaintances 'in shock' 

Ricky Rai moved to a Chicago suburb. He rode motorcycles, went to bars and Bears games and boasted of dating different women, said Chicago businessman Salil Gandhi, who met Ricky Rai not long after Sparkle's death. Gandhi and his friends were "dumbfounded and in shock for several days" after learning about the killing.

"We met him within a couple of months of this horrible thing happening,'' Gandhi said. "He didn't show any of the emotions you would expect."

Gandhi, whose parents are from India, is married to an Indian woman. He knows many Indians who are happy in mixed-race marriages, he said.

"But most of our parents would prefer we marry someone from India. And, for the uneducated Indians who aren't as worldly or metropolitan, who might have come from smaller villages, marrying a black person would be about as bad as it could get," Gandhi said.

Ricky Rai recently married an Indian woman who is also Hindu, like Rai's family. They live in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said the new bride and her family didn't know about his first marriage, his baby or his wife's brutal death.

Attempts to reach Ricky Rai and his family were unsuccessful.

Some feel Rai's not guilty 

Black professionals who worked with Chiman Rai in Mississippi said they don't believe he is behind a racist murder.

The senior Rai, who grew up in India, brought his family to the United States in 1970 and settled in Jackson. He taught at Alcorn State University, a historically black college south of the city.

Retired Alcorn dean Norris Edney, who supervised Rai, said he was an excellent teacher who never showed signs of bigotry against blacks.

After a decade, Rai left teaching and operated a small supermarket in Jackson. A black businessman there said Chiman Rai couldn't be behind a race-fueled murder.

"I really don't believe he did it," said Jimmie King, owner of King Brothers Trading Post across the street from Rai's former grocery store.King, who has sold tires in the crime-ridden Georgetown community for years, said Rai often helped poor black residents there.

Police said he also ran into legal trouble. In 1985, Rai was sentenced to five years of probation for trafficking in food stamps.

More than a decade later, officers raided his store and hauled away televisions, bicycles and other items they believed were stolen. He was not prosecuted but Rai soon decided to get a fresh start in another state, King said.

The Rais left Mississippi in 1998 and relocated to Kentucky, where Rai operated a 100-room hotel near Louisville's main airport.

Authorities arrested him there last month.

Sparkle's family can now at least hope for justice.

Analla is now 7 years old. She's in the first grade and living with Sparkle's stepmother and father. They said she knows nothing about Ricky Rai, only that her mother was killed by "bad men."

Clark, the alleged hit man, has a violent past, and once took Mendenhall, Miss., police officer Chris Seghini hostage. Clark was sentenced to prison, but Mendenhall said "he got off way too easy."

Prosecutors believe Rai hired Clark through middlemen he knew from years of running a business in a rough neighborhood in Jackson. Now the two men from far different worlds and cultures could spend the rest of their lives in Georgia — on death row.


Family members of Sparkle Reid Rai, who was murdered in 2000, listen to evidence presented in Fulton Superior Court during Chiman Rai’s murder trial in 2008. At right is her father, Bennet Reid Jr. Holding his hand is Donna Lowry Reid, Sparkle Reid Rai's stepmother.

Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

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Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

From June 28, 2008: 

Jury chooses life without parole in contract killing 

By Steve Visser

A Fulton County jury spared Chiman Rai's life Friday, the day after he was convicted of ordering a hit man to kill his daughter-in-law.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, but the jury ruled unanimously in favor of life without parole.

Sparkle Rai, then 22, was strangled and stabbed eight years ago. And while her breath was being choked from her, she reached toward her baby daughter, Analla.

Those are just some of the facts that made the murder so different from the more than 100 killings that Fulton County suffers every year and why Rai should be sentenced to death, prosecutor Sheila Ross told a Superior Court jury Friday.

"This particular murder, outrageous, wantonly vile," Ross said. "The brutal murder of this young mother not only justifies but demands the death penalty."

Rai, 68, had Sparkle killed because she married his son a month earlier, and Rai viewed the young woman as unacceptable because she was black, prosecutors said.

The jury took 90 minutes to decide the punishment for the former businessman from Jackson, Miss., after taking six hours to convict him Thursday.

Bennet Reid, the victim's father, said he was satisfied with the punishment in a case that for years he feared would never be solved. But the retired Army officer made clear he wanted Rai to pay more severely.

"I wanted the death penalty, but I understand," he said.

A Fulton County jury hasn't delivered a death penalty since 2000 when Gregory Lawler was convicted of murdering a police officer and maiming a second. District Attorney Paul Howard who sought the death penalty — going so far as to agree to probation for two of Rai's co-defendants who arranged the murder — said he remained optimistic that Fulton juries believed in the ultimate punishment.

Sparkle Rai was murdered April 26, 2000, in her Union City apartment, and the case went unsolved until a break two years ago indicated her relationship with Rajeeve "Ricky" Rai, now 27, was the motive.

Defense lawyer Don Samuel argued that while Rai may have hired a hit man, he didn't order such a brutal killing. And while there was evidence that Rai, a native of India, believed his son's marriage would cast a stigma on his family in caste-conscious Indian society, Samuel said Rai wasn't a racist.

"It is not necessary for you to kill Chiman Rai," Samuel told jurors. "This was not a crime motivated by greed and while I know the prosecution disagrees with me, this was not a hate crime.

"He did it out of some perverted belief that it was in the best interest of his son."

Donna Lowry, Sparkle Rai's stepmother, testified and asked jurors to think of Sparkle's child, Analla, who is being raised by Lowry and Sparkle's father.

"I'm here to speak for someone whose voice will not be heard in this courtroom, she is too young," said Lowry, a reporter for WXIA.

She said the last time she saw Sparkle Rai was with Analla at church on Easter Sunday 2000.

"It is very painful for me to think of what happened to her three days later," Lowry said.

On the day her mother's body was found, Analla never cried, as if she was in shock, Lowry said. And then for months, the baby would wake up screaming in the night.

The family has told Analla that her mother is in heaven and has tried to shield the elementary school student from the details of her mother's death, Lowry said.

She noted that Analla is inquisitive but never has asked how her mother died. Lowry dreads the day that changes.

"Someday she will ask and that will be one of the hardest conversations we'll ever have." Lowry said. "Then she'll know she was there when it happened."


Bennet Reid, father of Sparkle Rai, wipes the tears away after the verdict in a Fulton County courtroom in Atlanta in 2008. Sixty-eight-year-old Chiman Rai, a Mississippi businessman born in India, was found guilty on charges that he arranged to have a hitman murder his African-American daughter-in-law.

Credit: John Spink

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Credit: John Spink

From June 27, 2009: 

9 years later, hit man guilty 

Staff and news services

A Fulton County jury has convicted a hit man in the racially motivated murder of a 22-year-old mother who was found strangled and stabbed weeks after her wedding.

The jury on Friday found Cleveland Clark guilty in the slaying of Sparkle Michelle Rai.

The sentencing phase of Clark's trial begins next week. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Rai was slain April 26, 2000, in her Union City apartment, and the case went unsolved until police learned three years ago that her marriage to Rajeeve "Ricky" Rai was the motive.

Her father-in-law, Chiman Rai, was convicted in June 2008 of masterminding the killing and was sentenced to life in prison.

Prosecutors said Chiman Rai ordered Sparkle Rai's death because he believed the marriage brought shame to the family because she was black.

Clark and two other men conspired with Chiman Rai in the killing, prosecutors say.

Police caught a break in 2006 when Clinique Jackson was arrested on unrelated charges and offered to help police solve a killing she witnessed as a teenager. She said she and a friend watched Clark strangle Sparkle Rai and then stab her.

Investigators then tied Clark to Willie Fred Evans and Herbert Green in Mississippi, where the wealthy Chiman Rai ran a neighborhood grocery.

Green and Evans testified during Chiman Rai's trial that they had hired Clark on behalf of Rai in April 2000. Green said Rai paid $10,000 and said he needed his son's new wife killed quickly.

Evans and Green were so crucial to the prosecution's case that they received probation in exchange for their testimony.


From July 4, 2009

Tears, relief as Sparkle Rai's killer gets death sentence 

By Rhonda Cook

Sparkle Rai's father Bennet Reid wiped away a tear Thursday evening when he heard the sentence.

"Death," the forewoman read from a Fulton County jury box, condemning Cleveland Clark, the man convicted of murdering Reid's daughter.

Donna Lowery, Rai's stepmother, let out a tremendous sigh.

Then, it was Clark's turn to hear his fate. Cleveland, who had made several outbursts during the two-week trial and sentencing hearings, was led into the courtroom in shackles.

Judge T. Jackson Bedford then repeated the sentence with Cleveland present. This time, Clark showed little emotion until he was led out of the courtroom. He glared at the jury.

The same Fulton County jury that last Friday convicted Clark of murdering Rai, decided Thursday he should die by legal injection. Cleveland, 52, stabbed and strangled Rai with a vacuum cleaner chord in front of her crying 6-month-old daughter for $10,000.

"I feel like a big burden has been lifted from my shoulders," Bennet said after the sentencing. "I really believe that Sparkle has seen this happen, and she's smiling down."

He and Lowery exchanged hugs with other loved ones in the courtroom.

"I think they truly saw what type of an evil man he really is," Lowery said of the jury's death sentence.

Rai's father-in-law, Chiman Rai, a native of India, wanted Rai dead because he opposed his son marrying an African-American woman. Sparkle, then 22, and Rajeeve "Ricky" Rai had been married a month when she was murdered.

Clark was the last of those implicated in Rai's death.

Chiman Rai, 68, was sentenced in 2008 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for hiring Clark to kill Sparkle Rai.

Two other men — the links between Chiman Rai and Clark — each were sentenced to 10 months' probation because they helped prosecutors bring cases against the father-in-law and Clark.

The 6-3, nearly 300-pound Clark's volatile personality showed Thursday in an obscenity-filled rant that led Bedford to clear the jury and the prisoner from the courtroom.

"I said I didn't kill no ... woman," Cleveland said, pounding a table with his fist. "What's wrong with you? I'm sick of this ... telling lies on me."

Asked after the hearing to compare Clark's death penalty to the life without parole outcome of convicted multiple killer Brian Nichols, Fulton County prosecutor Kellie Hill said Clark "sealed his own fate" with his outbursts.

"The jury got to see the killer that Sparkle got to face," Hill said.