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Arthur J Pais
Vijay Patel, owner of a grocery store, is a kind man, people who have known him for many years say. As the old expression goes, Patel will not, cannot, harm even a fly.
Patel does not believe in the death penalty. And he is very clear that he does not want a death sentence for the man who is charged with shooting his brother-in-law and killing of five people including an Indian.
Again and again he says that Richard S Baumhammers, the man charged with the murders and attempted murder in a racist rampage in Pittsburgh last April 28, should be spared from death.
But he is clear 35-year-old Baumhammers should suffer.
"Someone should cut off his arms and legs," he says.
His brother-in-law Sandip Patel, 26, is paralyzed, and cannot move by himself.
Vijay Patel sneers at the defense strategy to portray Baumhammers as mentally ill.
Baumhammers's trial started late last week and is expected to go on for several days.
Last week, the prosecutors called several witnesses who bolstered the government's case that Baumhammers carefully selected his victims.
Last year, eyewitnesses had told officials that Baumhammers adroitly piloted himself through Pittsburgh traffic without violating any laws.
How could an insane person be so traffic wise, officials ask.
While Sandip Patel was shot in the neck and back while working at the India Grocers in Scott Towne, a customer in the store, Anil Thakur, 31, was shot and killed.
Thakur, who was on a temporary work visa in America, was to return to his family in India within a few weeks.
Baumhammers, who is opposed to immigrants from non-white countries, also killed his Jewish neighbor, two people from Far East Asia and an African American during a violent orgy through the Pittsburgh suburbs on April 28, 2000.
Baumhammers, a son of immigrants from Latvia, was an immigration lawyer for several years. His father is a dentist and is considered to be one of the richest professionals in the city. His attorney William Difendhfer has said he will mount an insanity defense.
Last year, he unsuccessfully tried to convince officials that his client was insane.
Initially, Difendhfer appeared to have some success.
A judge had transferred Baumhammers to a mental hospital for treatment, after hearing three court-appointed psychiatrists testify that he was incompetent to aid in his own defense on homicide charges. He could be tried later if his mental state improved, the psychiatrists had said.
Following his stay in hospital, the psychiatrists deemed Baumhammers fit to stand trial.
Several people interviewed by the local media last week said Baumhammers should be prosecuted vigorously and punished severely so that other racists would think twice before attacking minorities.
Officials say they found documents in Baumhammers's home that showed he was connected to anti-immigration groups.
Detectives found a document titled Free Market Party on his computer.
It contained writings alluding to the formation of a political party 'that work [sic] for the interest of the American Majority.'
Listed as 'Objectives' of this party are: 'End to Third World Immigration.' It lamented that 'European immigration has been practically eliminated.
'Traditional Americans will live in isolated suburbs outnumbered by Third World immigrants,' it warned, calling for an 'End to Affirmative Action.'
The document continued to lament current immigration policies and states '...whites are destined to be a true minority... The descendants of the people that made this nation great are losing a foothold on this nation.' It denoted Richard Baumhammers as the party chairman.
Pittsburgh officials were clear at the start of the nature of Baumhammers's crime.
'Anybody who wants to guess whether it would be a hate-related crime, I guess these would be people who would look at the Empire State Building to determine if it was a skyscraper,' county coroner Cyril Wecht had told reporters hours after the rampage.+
He said there were so few Asians in Pittsburgh that the likelihood of someone picking those victims by chance would be 'one in a trillion.' The African American man was in an Asian-run gym, too.
'I really hope he (Baumhammers) gets the death sentence,' 35-year-old Kunjal Doshi told the Pittsburgh Gazette this week. 'That's how I feel. What he did, it's awful. A man died, another man is paralyzed from the neck down. His life is totally gone, as far as I'm concerned -- and all the other shootings that absolutely didn't make any sense. It was purely racist.'
But the tragedy also brought about some good. Hundreds of people joined a battery of anti-hate groups, rights organizations and ethnic associations from across the city at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter headquarters to denounce racism and violence.
"This is more than black or white," said Tim Stevens of the NAACP. It is a "time for everyone to come together to address issues of gun laws and race hatred in Pittsburgh."
Doshi said the Indian community raised thousands of dollars to help the Thakur family, as well pay for Sandip Patel's medical bills. "It opened our eyes that racism is still out there," Doshi said, but she also realized there was a lot of good all around, which "cannot be ignored."
As for Sangita, Sandip's sister, her American dream cannot be scared away by people like Baumhammers.
She repeats what she had said about a year ago. "(Sandip's) shooter wanted us to believe that we are different, that we do not belong," she muses.
"Most importantly, he wanted us to fear that one day, any member of the Indian-American community will be targets of a hate crime. My brother and I refuse to live that way."
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