Patel relatives dispute wife's image of family

Sisters-in-law paint kind picture of father

call defendant `moody'

September 07, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Prosecutors in the manslaughter trial of Alpna Patel sought to undermine part of her defense yesterday, presenting witnesses who contradicted Patel's portrait of her father-in-law as a domineering man who meddled in her marriage.

The daughters of Patel's father-in-law presented a softer picture of him, rebutted suggestions that the family's traditional Hindu customs stifle the rights of married women - and took a slap at Alpna Patel's temperament.

Nina and Anita Patel testified that Alpna Patel - a Canadian dentist charged with stabbing to death her husband 10 months after the couple's arranged marriage - was often emotionally unstable and would take her anger out on family members.

"She is temperamental and whenever she is angry it's, `just leave her alone,'" said Anita Patel, 22, who called Alpna Patel "a best friend."

The daughters testified for the prosecution. Assistant State's Attorney William D. McCollum plans to conclude his case against Patel today, after three days of testimony and 10 witnesses.

Defense attorney Edward Smith Jr. is expected to begin presenting his witnesses tomorrow. On Monday, Smith got an assistant medical examiner to admit during cross examination that Patel could have stabbed her husband, Viresh Patel, accidentally while defending herself.

During Patel's first trial, which ended in a mistrial when the lone male juror refused to go along with the other jurors and acquit Patel, Smith argued the victim's father tried to micromanage the couple's marriage. That forced Patel to tell her husband she was leaving him, causing the attack, Smith argued.

But McCollum used the two daughters' testimony yesterday to show a much different side of Nandlal Patel, Viresh Patel's father, and his family's customs.

Nina Patel, 19, testified that Alpna Patel and Nandlal Patel were like "father and daughter" and her sister in-law was free to "do whatever she wants."

Nina Patel also called Alpna Patel "very moody."

"If she did not like somebody she would express those feelings to us," Nina Patel said.

Her sister, Anita Patel, also criticized Patel, but used much of her testimony to explain the family's religious beliefs.

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

During the first trial, Patel testified that arrangement caused her in-laws to try to transform her from an independent, educated woman into a subordinate wife.

Anita Patel rebutted that argument, noting she and her sister are westernized and not dominated by their father.

"No one forces us to do anything," Anita Patel said.

During his cross examination, Smith did not challenge the sisters' assertions. Instead, Smith focused on the last time the sisters saw their brother before he left the family home in Buffalo and returned to Baltimore, where he was completing a medical residency at Union Memorial Hospital.

Viresh Patel and his mother, who decided she needed to get away for the week, drove to Baltimore three days before his death, the sisters testified. There was an argument the night before they left between Viresh Patel, his parents and Alpna Patel, the sisters testified yesterday, but they did not hear what it was about.

Alpna Patel testified during the first trial that the argument centered on how she was treated by Nandlal Patel.

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