Judge, fearing Patel might flee, sets bail for her at $1 million

Woman convicted in husband's death vows to clear name

September 22, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge set bail yesterday at $1 million for Alpna Patel - the Canadian dentist convicted of stabbing her husband to death in March last year - after she vowed to "fight until the end" to prove her innocence.

After the hearing, during which Judge John N. Prevas accused a Canadian women's rights group of "threatening" him, Patel's attorneys said they would work to raise their client's bail.

Patel remained at the Baltimore City Detention Center last night. A jury convicted her Monday of voluntary manslaughter for stabbing her physician husband at his Pimlico apartment March 24, 1999.

Her two-week trial centered on women's rights, arranged marriages and Hindu customs.

Patel says she stabbed her husband in self-defense after she threatened to leave their marriage, which had been arranged according to Hindu custom in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Prosecutors argued that Patel stabbed her husband, Viresh Patel, as he slept.

Prevas set bail despite concerns that Patel's family and supporters might send her underground to avoid prison. If Patel is able to make bail, it would keep her out of jail until she is sentenced Oct. 24. "Her wealth works against her. I've got to worry about flight," Prevas said. "My sense is $1 million might be too low."

A month ago, Patel was a fugitive for two days when she refused to return from Saskatoon to Baltimore for trial. Her father did not believe she could get a fair trial in the United States.

Before Prevas granted bail, Patel took the stand to assure him that she is not a flight risk - saying she did not want to live as a fugitive constantly "looking over my shoulder" - and passionately reiterated that she stabbed her husband in self-defense. She said: "The truth will prevail eventually."

Patel's father, Dev Amin, hinted during testimony that it will be difficult for him to raise the bail.

"My resources are limited," said Amin, a Canadian doctor. "I am her only support unless her old father-in-law wants to part with some of his old money and support her."

"Amin's last comment was directed at Nandlal Patel, Viresh's father. During her trial, Alpna Patel testified that her father-in-law had mentally abused her when she lived with him in Buffalo while her husband was finishing his medical residency at Union Memorial Hospital.

Nandlal Patel declined to comment on the allegations yesterday.

Assistant State's Attorney William D. McCollum, who argued against bail, said none of the Patels could be trusted.

While Prevas expressed concerns that Patel's parents would make good on previous threats to hide their daughter, he was more concerned that Patel had become a heroine to Canadian feminists.

The judge made reference to comments, published in The Sun on Wednesday, by Kripa Sekhar, vice president of the Canadian National Action Committee on the Status of Women. In the article, Sekhar pleaded with Prevas to release Patel on bail and warned her group would protest if he didn't.

Although the NAC is known for peaceful protests, Prevas apparently interpreted Sekhar's comments as a threat. "That kind of assault on the judiciary cannot be tolerated," the judge said.

Patel's lead attorney, Edward Smith Jr., said Prevas' concerns were misguided. "We are not talking about the Black Panthers. We are talking about women who believe they have been treated less [fairly] than men," Smith said.

Sekhar, who did not attend yesterday's hearing, said: "We speak for women's rights. We do protest from time to time, but we protest in a way that is within the law." We are not a vigilante group."

Two representatives from the Baltimore chapter of the National Organization for Women attended the hearing, but declined to comment.

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