Patel case scheduled to go to jury today

Judge calls evidence presented by state 'purely circumstantial'

September 13, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The last day of testimony in Alpna Patel's manslaughter trial in Baltimore Circuit Court began much the same as the first day a week and a half ago:

Prosecutors tried to poke holes in the Canadian dentist's claim of self-defense - that her husband was killed when she thwarted his attack - but presented little direct evidence to the contrary.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating today, but Circuit Judge John N. Prevas said yesterday that he was considering throwing out the manslaughter charge because prosecutors presented a "purely circumstantial case."

Although Prevas decided to let the case go to the jury after closing arguments end today, he said he was "troubled somewhat" by the evidence.

Assistant State's Attorney William McCollum cross-examined Patel for less than 30 minutes yesterday but did not challenge her testimony.

Instead, he showed her a series of pictures from the crime scene, and photographs of Patel and her husband, who was about a foot taller than she.

McCollum argued in Patel's first trial in February - which ended in a mistrial - that it would be impossible for Patel to fend off an attack because of the size difference. He did not repeat that argument yesterday but used a prop to make his point.

With Patel trembling on the witness stand, McCollum positioned a mannequin in front of the jury that had two kitchen knives stuck in its neck in the same positions as her husband's stab wounds.

But Patel stuck to her story.

"I only had contact with [the knife] during the struggle," she said, gazing directly at the jurors.

Defense attorney Edward Smith Jr. presented several character witnesses, including Patel's second-grade teacher, who testified that the defendant "has always been gentle, kind and peaceful."

The final witness was Patel's best friend, Shveta Unarkat, whom Smith used to try to counter the effect of the mannequin.

"Have you ever known her to be in a situation where she could take a knife and plunge it into somebody?" Smith said, raising his voice and lunging one of the knives into the mannequin's neck.

Unarkat responded: "She is very spiritual ... mild mannered."

McCollum had used the mannequin during his opening statement to try to show jurors it would be hard for the defendant's husband, Viresh Patel, to be stabbed in a back-to-front angle during a struggle, as the defendant claimed.

In his opening statement, Smith countered by having another attorney grab a knife and straddle and wrestle him on the courtroom floor to try to show Viresh Patel could have been stabbed during a defensive struggle.

Viresh Patel was living in a Pimlico apartment while completing a medical residency at Union Memorial Hospital when he was stabbed on March 24 last year.

Alpna Patel, who had been living with her in-laws in Buffalo, N.Y., testified Monday that she traveled to Baltimore to confront her husband with a list of ways to save their marriage the night before his death.

Most of the items on the list, which was given to jurors yesterday, involve Patel's complaints that her father-in-law viewed her as family property and did not let her have friends outside the home.

Patel was arrested shortly after her husband's death. During the trial, her attorneys argued her husband was accidentally stabbed during a struggle after he attacked her because she threatened to leave him.

The incident has attracted international attention because the couple's arranged Hindu marriage had been featured in a Canadian documentary.

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