Wife on trial in husband's death details marriage

She blames in-laws, cultural conflicts for rocky relationship

February 01, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Alpna Patel, charged in the killing of her husband in March, testified yesterday that contrasting Indian Hindu cultures and interfering in-laws were ruining her life and their 10-month marriage.

Patel and her parents testified yesterday in a Baltimore courtroom crowded with U.S. and foreign journalists tracking the tale of an arranged marriage that ended inside a one-bedroom Pimlico apartment.

Patel is a 27-year-old dentistry resident from Canada who was living in Buffalo with her in-laws. Her husband, Viresh, was a 26-year-old doctor who was performing his residency at Union Memorial Hospital.

The couple married in May 1998 in a ceremony featured on a Canadian documentary on arranged marriages.

Prosecutors say Patel left Buffalo on March 23, flew to Baltimore and killed her husband in a spiteful rage as he slept in his bed.

Defense lawyers acknowledge that Patel may have stabbed her husband but say she was acting in self defense. They said her husband tried to attack her one hour after she read him a list of 39 ways to save the marriage. Most of Patel's complaints dealt with how she was treated by her father-in-law.

Patel grew up in a liberal Hindu tradition, but her husband's parents followed the "joint-family" tradition in which the extended family lives in the same house.

Patel, who is expected to testify again today about the night of the stabbing, detailed how her in-laws tried to transform her from an independent, educated woman to a subordinate wife and a perfect traditional Hindu daughter-in-law.

"I was shocked I was not allowed to have friends. I was not allowed to make friends with colleagues or anyone outside the house," Patel testified.

The couple met in late 1997, after Patel's mother placed an ad in an Indian newspaper. Her parents gave her the option to find a husband, but Patel, who never dated, wanted to be married when she graduated from dental school in Canada.

The couple talked on the phone once a week for three months then they met in Buffalo on July 4, 1997. After the three-day visit, Viresh told her: " `I think my search is over,' " Patel testified.

Patel testified that she had qualms about the marriage but agreed to meet Viresh one month later in her hometown on the rural plains of Canada.

"When he came [here], I remember feeling this ache in my heart," Patel said. "That was the first time I fell in love, and I told my mom and dad that `I love him. I want to marry him.' "

An extravagant wedding was held in May 1998, and Patel moved to Buffalo with her in-laws. Her husband moved to Baltimore for his one-year medical rotation.

"I thought it was going fine. I thought I was doing what I had to do as a new daughter-in-law," testified Patel, who wears her wedding band. "I helped with chores, cooking, siblings' homework."

But Patel said her father-in-law, whom she refers to as "Papa," insulted her, calling her family "dirt," and tried to micromanage her life.

She tried to quit her dental residency in December 1998 to move to Baltimore with her husband, but her father-in-law would not allow her to leave, she testified.

Prosecutors believe Patel secretly traveled to Baltimore to kill her husband and then flee the country. But Patel testified that she ran away from her father-in-law and traveled Baltimore to tell her husband she was returning to Canada.

Patel said her father might have foreshadowed the tragedy when he spoke at her wedding.

"Dad said in Indian culture when your daughter gets married, you pass her off into a leaky boat," she testified, noting the boat symbolizes a marriage's trust, love and commitment. "If those things are not there the boat will leak and not survive."

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