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Patel jury sees 'fight'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The prosecutor in Alpna Patel's manslaughter trial began presenting his case yesterday, but he was quickly upstaged by defense attorneys, who wrestled on the floor in an attempt to prove the Canadian dentist stabbed her husband in self-defense.

Patel's first trial on murder charges ended in a mistrial in February when the lone male juror refused to agree with his colleagues and acquit Patel.

"Shakespeare could not have written anything better than what has happened and what will transpire in this courtroom," Patel's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., told jurors in his opening statement yesterday.

Smith became dramatic when he cross-examined Assistant State's Attorney William McCollum's first witness, Dr. Margarita Korell, an assistant medical examiner.

Korell testified that Patel's husband, Dr. Viresh Patel, was stabbed six times on March 24, 1999, in a Pimlico apartment that he lived in during his medical residency at Union Memorial Hospital. Patel, who was living with her in-laws in Buffalo, N.Y., traveled to Baltimore that night to present her husband with a list of ways to save their troubled marriage.

The lethal stab wound, a gash to the left side of the victim's neck 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep, cut his jugular vein and carotid artery, Korell said.

Viresh Patel also had a stab wound to the chest, a small "cutting wound" to the forehead and three superficial wounds to the left shoulder, Korell said.

"These were not defensive-type wounds," Korell said, noting the lack of injury to Viresh Patel's hands, except for a small laceration to one of his fingers.

All of the wounds were at a downward angle and entered from back to front, Korell said, as McCollum showed jurors the neck and chest of a mannequin that had two kitchen knives sticking in it.

Korell said the wounds were consistent with someone being attacked while lying on his side.

Smith immediately attacked the testimony, using himself as a prop.

Lying on the carpet, Smith directed Korell to aim a knife at his neck at the same angle she said Viresh Patel was stabbed. After initially fumbling with the knife, Korell pointed it awkwardly at Smith's neck.

"Is that the way you would comfortably hold it?" Smith asked?

Korell replied tersely that there was not a "normal" way to hold it.

During cross-examination, Korell acknowledged that the lethal wound could have been inflicted accidentally, caused by two people struggling over the knife.

"Oh, yes, it could [be accidental]," Korell said. "But what about the other ones? They're all wounds, too."

Smith later instructed defense attorney Lynn Williamson to straddle him as he lay on the carpet. The two attorneys then began clutching the knife and jerking it, both attempting to seize control of the weapon.

"If a person is struggling with another person for control of the knife, and these three cuts occur, is that a possibility?" Smith asked, as some jurors smiled in amusement.

Korell eventually acknowledged, "There are two people and the [knife], so there are three things moving, so anything is possible."

As he left the courtroom, Smith told a dozen reporters from the United States and Canada covering the trial that his tactics are time-honored.

"That is a matter of demonstrative evidence; that is in all textbooks," he said.

Korell also testified under cross-examination that the slain man had a small quantity of liquids in his stomach when he died. That testimony is expected to be critical today when prosecutors are likely to call Viresh Patel's mother to the stand.

The mother, who was visiting her son during the time of the slaying, is expected to testify she heard someone get a glass of water shortly before the stabbing.

In the first trial, prosecutors argued that Alpna Patel got the glass of water and then retrieved the knife from the kitchen. Smith argued Viresh Patel retrieved the knife and water, underscoring the contention that he was the aggressor.

McCollum won a victory yesterday when Circuit Judge John N. Prevas ruled that a blood test can be introduced as evidence.

The test was of blood apparently taken from clothing Alpna Patel was wearing the night of her husband's death.

McCollum has also apparently changed his strategy regarding the condition of the murder weapon. During the first trial, the mother said she wiped off the knife before police arrived, leading Smith to ask jurors why the victim's mother would clean the weapon, unless she thought she was covering up for her son.

But yesterday, Nina White, a Baltimore police department crime lab technician, testified the knife was covered in blood.

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