Patel to face retrial in husband's killing

2nd-degree murder, manslaughter charges

February 08, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

After a mistrial in which 11 of 12 jurors decided Alpna Patel was not guilty of murder, the state's attorney's office has decided to retry the Canadian dentist accused of killing her husband in March.

Prosecutors, who will try Patel on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter, made their request yesterday morning to Circuit Judge David Mitchell. The judge set June 5 for the new trial.

The first trial ended Friday with a deadlocked jury when the lone male juror held out for a guilty verdict on the manslaughter charge. He also changed his mind on the charge of second-degree murder at the last minute.

Patel, 27, is accused of killing Viresh Patel, a 26-year-old surgical resident at Union Memorial Hospital. Prosecutors contend that Patel stabbed her husband three times when he failed to shield her from a traditional Hindu father-in-law who she said viewed her as family property. Her defense team argued that Patel acted in self-defense after her husband attacked her when she threatened to leave him.

The couple had married 10 months earlier in an arranged Hindu marriage, but Patel lived with her in-laws in Buffalo, N.Y., while her husband worked in Baltimore.

During the trial, both sides presented complicated arguments about marriage, sex, family, religion and self-defense.

At the end, the jury forewoman announced Patel's acquittal on charges of first-and second-degree murder but said the jury was deadlocked on the manslaughter charge because the male juror refused to vote not guilty. One female juror was also wavering between not guilty and guilty on manslaughter.

The male juror, Thomas E. Truman, a theologian, switched his vote on second-degree murder as Judge John Themelis polled the jury. The judge ordered the jurors to resume deliberations.

The jurors then declared Patel was not guilty of first-degree murder but said they were deadlocked on second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Assistant State's Attorney William McCollum plans to retry Patel on both of those charges in June, a prospect that disturbs some female jurors from the first trial who believe Truman's change of mind could send an innocent woman to prison for up to 30 years.

"It does not make me feel good, not good at all," said juror Phyllis Fitzgerald, a postal worker. "I'm sorry the verdict turned out the way it did."

Fitzgerald said jurors took their frustrations out on Truman during the final round of deliberations.

"I was highly upset that [Truman] changed his mind, especially since we asked him again if he was sure right before we left that jury room," Fitzgerald said.

Two other jurors, who did not want to be identified, agreed with Fitzgerald.

Truman, 42, refused to comment yesterday. His father said his son "wants to forget the case."

Fitzgerald said the majority of the jurors believed prosecutors did "an extremely poor" job arguing the case and that they believed Patel's self-defense testimony. She also said city homicide detectives had been sloppy with evidence.

Prosecutors said they were unfazed by the jurors' opinions and defended their plans to retry the case.

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