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US: Indian woman jailed for 20 years for setting husband on fire

March 12, 2014 09:49 IST

A 27-year-old Indian-origin woman, convicted of arson leading to her husband's death two years ago, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court in the US state of Texas.

After long deliberations, a Travis County jury handed down the sentence to Shriya Patel yesterday afternoon, which was accepted by District Judge David Crain.

Shirya (27) who faced the death sentence for allegedly killing her husband, Bimal, by pouring gasoline over him and setting him on fire, was, on March 10, found not guilty of capital murder by the jury.

However, she was on Tuesday found guilty of first-degree felony arson and given a prison sentence of 20 years. She has served two years of incarceration thus far and will likely be eligible for parole in three years. Upon release from prison, she will face deportation.

In the courtroom on Tuesday, she stared straight ahead as the verdict was read. Although her family was not in the courtroom, but local South Asian community members, who supported her for last two weeks of trial were there for her.

More than a dozen friends of Bimal Patel, who also have sat through the proceedings, were absent. But after the jury's decision was read, a victim services counsellor read a direct statement to Shriya Patel from a close friend of Bimal Patel's who took the stand last week.

Bimal's friends testified that Shriya loved another man and wanted to make him jealous. But Shriya's attorneys argued Bimal wanted to kill himself and forced her to help.

Outside the courtroom, defense lawyer Jackie Wood said the case was a challenging one to try, given the lack of physical evidence and cultural and language barriers.

She said she believed the state had not pushed for enough testing in the investigation and that it had filled holes in its case with misinformation, such as that Shriya Patel had been raised in an upper-class family.

Shriya had never been in trouble with the law and had likely not had contact with police in her home country. The process through the criminal justice system had been long and confusing for her, the attorney said.

Prosecutors said Shriya, who had studied in London and lived in Dubai was used to an upper-class lifestyle, was upset because Bimal did not lived up to her expectations.

They said she was disappointed that Bimal had been laid off from a telemarketing job and was struggling to pay his rent. Bimal and Shriya had met via an arranged marriage service in India.

According to court testimony, Shriya planned the murder of her husband, purchasing gasoline and a small, red gas tank, along with candles and fabric to cover the sprinkler heads from a nearby Walmart.

Image: Police photograph of Shriya Patel

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