Wife's trial in killing begins

Dentist is charged with stabbing husband in Pimlico apartment

Victim's mother testifies

January 22, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

To prosecutors, Alpna Patel, a slightly built dentist from India, is a cold, calculating woman who stabbed her husband to death and watched as he lay dying.

To defense lawyers, Patel is a frustrated, loving wife who was ensnarled in a tension-filled marriage and killed her husband in self-defense.

Lawyers painted the contrasting portraits of the 27-year-old Patel yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court during the first day of her murder trial.

The trial, which has captured international attention because Patel grew up in Canada, was marked yesterday by emotional outbursts from the victim's mother, Chandrika Patel, 51. During her testimony, she broke into sobs and the jury had to be excused three times.

At one point while the jurors were gone, she turned to her daughter-in-law and yelled at her from the witness stand.

"Why did you kill my son?" she screamed.

Defense lawyers quickly escorted their client, dressed in a traditional sari, out of the courtroom.

Alpna Patel is charged with killing her husband, Viresh, 26, in their Northwest Baltimore apartment in March. Her husband was a surgical resident at Union Memorial Hospital. Patel was a dentistry resident in Buffalo, N.Y., where she lived with her in-laws.

Patel, who grew up on the rural plains of Canada, met her husband after her family placed ads in magazines and on the Internet. She and her parents wanted her to marry someone from an elite Hindu caste who came from the Indian state of Gujarat and shared similar cultural values.

Their union was featured in a documentary on Canadian public television that sought to show the positive side of arranged marriages. Yesterday, television, radio and newspaper reporters from Canada, including the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Patel's hometown newspaper, came to cover the trial.

That Alpna Patel killed her husband is not in dispute. She confessed to police in a 45-minute taped statement.

The case hinges on whether the jury can be convinced that she acted in self-defense.

Assistant State's Attorney William D. McCollum argued in opening statements yesterday that Patel planned a surprise attack on her husband. He said that on March 24, she secretly left New York, flew to Baltimore and checked into a hotel.

After spending more than 10 hours at the Quality Inn on West University Parkway, McCollum said, she went to her husband's apartment on Pimlico Road, crept up the stairs and walked into his bedroom.

Her mother-in-law was lying on the couch and suddenly heard loud noises from the bedroom. She walked in to find her son bleeding from the neck and Patel covered in blood, McCollum said.

She screamed at Patel to get help, but she refused, he said. The phone had been ripped out of the wall.

"She's trying to hold her son and stop the bleeding. The defendant stands still," McCollum said.

Police said that when they arrived at the house, Alpna Patel told them, "He attacked me and I had to defend myself."

"The defendant planned what would happen," McCollum said. She had a return ticket to Canada and jewelry in her rented car, he said.

The defense argued that Patel's sudden trip to Baltimore from New York was a desperate attempt to save her marriage.

Her lawyer, Edward Smith Jr., told jurors that Patel believed her husband's family controlled them. She secretly left Buffalo, Smith said, because she did not want her father-in-law to find out. In the hotel, she wrote 39 suggestions she thought could improve their marriage.

"She decided to see if she could salvage their marriage," Smith said.

After she talked to her husband that night, the couple went to bed. Suddenly, Smith said, she awoke to find her husband coming at her. She "flips him" and "there is a struggle. There is a cut. There is blood," he said.

Smith refuted the prosecution's assertion that Patel did little to help her husband.

Smith said she ran into the hallway and yelled, "Get help. Call 911."

He said Patel plans to testify. "See what happens on that witness stand," he told jurors.

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