- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) A state appeals court has overturned the manslaughter conviction of a Canadian dentist who killed her husband with a steak knife after 10 months of their arranged marriage.
The Court of Special Appeals faulted a prosecutor for "outrageous" remarks to the jury. The court noted that the 30-page ruling Friday does not exonerate Alpna Patel, 30, of charges that she killed Viresh Patel while he slept in his Baltimore apartment but sends the case back to Baltimore Circuit Court for a possible retrial.
It is not clear whether prosecutors will appeal the ruling or retry Mrs. Patel, who was released in January after serving about two years of her three-year prison term. Her state supervision is scheduled to end in February.
The Patels' Hindu marriage was arranged by their parents through an ad in an Indian newspaper. Mrs. Patel, a dentist from Saskatchewan, said she acted in self-defense in the stabbing. If the case goes back to court, it would be her third trial.
Her first, in 2000, ended in a mistrial, and she briefly was considered a fugitive when she refused to return from Canada for a new trial. But she did return, and a jury convicted her in September 2000 of voluntary manslaughter.
Mrs. Patel is entitled to a new trial "as a result of improper and prejudicial comments made by the prosecutor during the state's closing argument," Joseph H. Murphy Jr., chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals, wrote for the three-judge panel that heard the appeal.
The court faulted William McCollum, who recently left the office of assistant state's attorney in Baltimore, for comments directed to media attending the trial as he reminded jurors that the victim suffered five stab wounds. Mr. McCollum also made what the judges called "unfair references" to Mrs. Patel as a "poor little rich girl," according to the ruling.
The court said Mr. McCollum's "most outrageous remarks" were when he told jurors that ego motivated defense attorney Edward Smith Jr.'s arguments.
Neither Mr. McCollum nor Mr. Smith could be reached for comment.
Mrs. Patel said the past 3 years have been traumatic for her family and her husband's family and that she was "very happy" with the ruling. "I have professed my innocence all along," she said. "There never should have been a conviction."
The marriage was the topic of a Canadian Broadcast Co. television news feature that depicted their traditional arranged marriage as a modern choice with Indian cultural roots. In the feature, she spoke of growing to love her spouse, but their relationship grew troubled and she moved into her in-laws' Buffalo, N.Y., home while her husband worked in Baltimore.
Prosecutors can ask the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, to hear the case. The office has 45 days to decide.

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