Woman faces capital murder conviction after lighting husband on fire

Shriya Biman Patel

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Both prosecution and defense agree Shriya Patel burned her husband Bimal Patal in their bathtub so severely, he suffered burns on 70 percent of his body and died after nearly five month stay at Brooke Army Medical Center.

However, they disagree on whether or not she is guilty of capital murder.

“She is guilty of assisting the suicide of her husband,” said defense attorney Jackie Wood during closing arguments.

Shriya’s defense team has tried to convince the jury Bimal Patel wanted to die. They say he was frustrated with his life and his inability to uphold some of the basic Indian traditions expected of a husband.

But prosecutors say Shriya was the one unhappy with the traditional marriage.

The marriage between Shriya and Bimal was arranged as is custom in India. On April 17, 2012, just five days after Shriya arrived in the United States, she ignited a fire inside their north Austin apartment. Bimal was naked in the bathtub awaiting a sensual massage according to the state.

“Bimal Patel was not suicidal. He spent 4.5 months in Brooke Army Medical Center fighting for his life,” said prosecutor David Levingston.

The smoke alarms inside the apartment had been disabled, something the defense believes is an indicator of suicide.

“These are hard-wired into the apartment and it takes time and planning. Where was Bimal? He wanted it done,” said Wood.

The actions of the couple following the fire were also discussed by both sides during closing arguments. Bimal was screaming and asking why his wife would burn him according to testimony.

“The bathroom door was sealed shut. He was trying to get out and don’t you know he was screaming. Don’t you know when he kicked that door open that it was making some noise,” said prosecutor Jim Young.

But Jackie Wood says Shriya’s refusal to flee, but rather stay at the apartment shows she did not feel she had committed a crime.

“There is no flight in this case. No indication of guilt. She is in shock because while she knows what he wanted to do to himself, the blaming part was a surprise.”

Jurors began deliberating at 3:15pm on Friday, and were released for the weekend a little before midnight. The group will return Monday at 9 a.m. to continue their talks.

If convicted of Capital Murder, Patel would receive a sentence of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

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