The prosecutor in Alpna Patel's manslaughter trial abruptly ended the state's case yesterday without calling two critical witnesses from the first trial, surprising defense attorneys who scrambled to retool their strategy.
After two days of testimony,Assistant State's Attorney William D. McCollum concluded his case against the Canadian dentist accused of stabbing her physician husband, Viresh Patel.
The unexpected announcement - which came 12 hours after he told the court Wednesday he would call three witnesses yesterday - caused Patel's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., to ask the judge to throw out the manslaughter charge for lack of evidence.
Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas denied the motion, saying that although McCollum presented a "circumstantial case," he produced enough evidence for jurors to make up their minds.
Smith then called Apna Patel's mother and father to testify about their daughter's troubled arranged Hindu marriage and how her in-laws treated her.
Dev and Kanan Amin said they raised their daughter to be independent and follow Western customs, such as celebrating Christmas, but were stunned to learn her in-laws were so traditional that they did not let the newlyweds sleep together on their wedding night.
"I thought it was very archaic and really, really old-fashioned," Dev Amin said.
Patel's parents were not supposed to be on the witness stand yesterday.
McCollum refused to comment on why he unexpectedly ended his case without calling Detective Marvin Sydnor and the victim's mother, who was in her son's apartment the night he was stabbed.
"There is a reason for it," Sydnor said. "I can't go into it, but there is a reason. ... The case is not over yet."
Patel's first trial on murder charges ended in a mistrial when the lone male juror refused to go along with other jurors and acquit Patel.
In that trial, Smith aggressively cross-examined Sydnor about his decision not to fingerprint the knife believed to have been used in the stabbing. Smith also got Patel's mother-in-law to admit that she wiped off the bloody knife before police arrived, suggesting she thought she was covering up for her son.
Jurors in the first trial said Sydnor's and the mother-in-law's testimony were factors in their decision not to convict Patel. Smith said he would call the mother-in-law today, risking that she would be hostile.
McCollum also did not introduce Patel's audiotaped confession to detectives as evidence, as he did in the first trial. Patel told detectives that she stabbed Viresh Patel when her husband attacked her after she threatened to leave him. Smith used the tape during the first trial to show Patel's testimony was consistent.
Smith said yesterday he was counting on McCollum introducing the tape as evidence.
"I am thinking about something that will allow me to get that [tape] in," said Smith, who appeared flustered after McCollum concluded his case.
The prosecution's case has centered on a half-dozen witnesses.
An assistant medical examiner testified that Viresh Patel had been stabbed six times while apparently lying on his side in bed. The first officer at the scene of the killing, which took place March 24, 1999, in Viresh Patel's Pimlico apartment, testified that Patel told him she stabbed her husband after he attacked her.
Viresh Patel's two sisters testified that Alpna Patel was often emotionally unstable and argued with her husband and in-laws three days before the stabbing.
Three police crime lab technicians also testified.
Smith said the prosecution's case was too thin, arguing it should be dismissed. But McCollum asserted that he has enough evidence for a manslaughter conviction.
"She [told the officer] 'He came after me, and I defended myself.' That puts the knife in her hands," McCollum said in court.
Manslaughter is the killing of a person without malice, Prevas said. To be acquitted on a self-defense argument, Patel must show she was attacked and did not use excessive force to defend herself.
McCollum is also using cross-examination to make his points.
Questioning Dev Amin, McCollum asked him if his 5-foot-1-inch daughter could fend off an attack from her 5-foot-11-inch husband.
Amin responded, "If provoked."