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February 2, 2002

Dentist who killed husband freed in U.S.

Darren Bernhardt
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
National Post

SASKATOON - Alpna Patel is preparing to return home to Saskatoon, set up a dental practice and begin her life again after being released from a U.S. prison Thursday where she has spent 18 months for killing her husband.

Ms. Patel, 29, was accused of stabbing her 26-year-old husband, Viresh, to death in March, 1999 to escape a mirthless marriage that had been arranged by their parents. Prosecutors said she stabbed him in a rage at their modest one-bedroom Baltimore apartment when he fell asleep while she pleaded to save their marriage.

Ms. Patel, a dentistry graduate from the University of Saskatchewan, was covered in blood and sitting at the kitchen table when police arrived.

Viresh Patel, originally from Buffalo, N.Y., was a surgical resident at Baltimore's Union Memorial Hospital.

Ms. Patel was given a three-year sentence for manslaughter at the the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, after another Baltimore jury acquitted her of first-degree murder and was hung on a charge of second-degree murder. Ms. Patel called home to Saskatoon on Thursday as soon as she was informed her stay was done, according to a relative who received the call.

"I can't believe it, just can't believe it. Nobody knew -- it was a surprise to all of us. We are really thrilled, as I think anybody would be if their family member was freed," said the relative, who did not want to give his name.

Her release was confirmed by an employee at Maryland Correctional Institution for Women yesterday.

Violent criminals in Maryland must serve half of their time before they are eligible for parole. Ms. Patel served 13 months and was given credit for three more spent in custody during the trial.

The relative said Ms. Patel was also looked upon kindly for her good behaviour.

Mr. Patel's father, Nandlal Patel, refused to comment on Ms. Patel's release. He had urged the judge to impose the maximum penalty after giving a poignant victim-impact testimony at the close of the trial.

Ms. Patel's family is waiting to hear if there will be any obstacles to bring her across the border.

"Right now we don't know what is happening, we're just waiting for a report," said the relative, noting Ms. Patel's wish is to begin practising dentistry once again and move on with her life.

Alpna and Viresh had agreed to the traditional Indian custom of an arranged marriage. Alpna found several candidates on-line, including Viresh. After a whirlwind of chaperoned meetings and brief dates, they had an extravagant wedding and a Disney World honeymoon in May, 1998.

Ms. Patel said in her testimony during both trials that the marriage began falling apart because of interference from her in-laws, particularly Mr. Patel's father. She said she was forced to live in the basement of her in-laws' home in Buffalo, N.Y., while her husband was 600 kilometres away working as a surgical resident in Baltimore.

The knife that killed Mr. Patel was from a set given to the couple as a wedding gift.

On March 23, 1999, she took a flight to Baltimore to confront her husband. Ms. Patel said the couple decided to sleep on their problems until morning but that she awoke two hours later to find her husband straddling her and pointing a black-handled steak knife at her chest.

She said she managed to knock him off her and in the ensuing struggle her husband was killed, his jugular and carotid artery slashed.

The jury didn't buy her story, citing the complete absence of injury to Ms. Patel as a large factor in the guilty verdict.

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