Woman accused of killing spouse claims self-defense

Prosecution, defense rest in Patel murder trial

February 02, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Alpna Patel, the Canadian woman charged with killing her husband, testified yesterday she was blessed with sudden "enormous strength" that allowed her to fend him off when he attacked after she threatened to leave.

The prosecution and the defense rested yesterday, and the case should go to the jury today after closing arguments. Patel, 27, could face life in prison if convicted of murdering her husband, Viresh Patel, 26, last March.

Prosecutors say Alpna Patel, a dentistry resident who lived with her in-laws in Buffalo, N.Y., made a surprise visit to Baltimore in a calculated plot to kill her husband of 10 months. Viresh Patel was a surgical resident at Union Memorial Hospital.

But the defense team argued that Patel fled Buffalo to escape her traditionalist Hindu father-in-law, who was demeaning and viewed her as family property. They said she acted in self-defense when her husband, angry because she had just discussed 39 ways to save their marriage, attacked her as she slept.

"I felt some pressure around my legs," said Patel, dressed in a sari."When I felt the pressure, I opened my eyes, and Viresh was kneeling on my body with a knife pointing at my chest."

The 5-foot, 120-pound Patel then lunged forward and flipped her husband over, she testified. Her husband, who was 5 feet 11 and weighed about 160 pounds, had control of a kitchen knife even as she clutched his hands, she said.

"We struggled and struggled, and before I knew it there was just this horrible, horrible shriek," she said.

The wrestling continued and her husband, who by this time had blood running from his nose and mouth, abruptly "rose up" and threw her on the bed. She slid off the bed, but her husband continued to attack, Patel testified.

"All of a sudden, he got off the bed and started lunging at me in big, big, staggering steps," Patel testified.

Viresh Patel's mother, who was visiting from Buffalo and sleeping on a couch a few feet away, awoke during the struggle. She and Alpna Patel then performed first aid on Viresh Patel. He died a short time later with a deep wound to the neck, a stab wound to the chest, a slash across the face and three superficial stab wounds to his right shoulder.

Looking toward the jury of 11 women and one man, defense attorney Edward Smith Jr. asked Patel how she fought off the violent series of attacks. She replied, "It was like a nightmare."

During cross examination, Assistant State's Attorney William D. McCollum tried to erode Patel's testimony. McCollum asked why she slept with her clothes on, how she resisted the attack from underneath bed sheets and why she was not injured.

"All I could think about was getting that knife away from me," Patel told McCollum as a half-dozen jurors nodded in agreement.

Prosecutors contend that Patel awoke during the night, got a glass of water, retrieved the knife and stabbed her husband. To support the first-degree murder charge, the prosecution has pointed out that she brought with her to Baltimore a large amount of gold jewelry, her passports and a bag stuffed with clothes. McCollum argues that she was prepared to flee the country.

Viresh Patel's mother testified last week that she heard Alpna Patel get a glass of water minutes before the attack. But a physiologist testifying for the defense last week said Viresh Patel's autopsy results show he may have been the one who got a glass of water.

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