May 2, 2001
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'He said hey, and just shot me...'

Arthur J Pais

'Hey' is a word Sandeep Patel hates to hear.

For when Richard Scott Baumhammers strode into India Grocers on April 28 with a .357-caliber Magnum handgun, it was the only word he had used before he pumped a bullet into Patel.

He had not met 26-year-old Patel before. He had not known about him either.

The single bullet severed Patel's spinal cord and paralyzed him for life from the neck down.

Sandeep Patel did not want to testify about the fateful day when Baumhammers went on a murder spree in Pittsburgh, looking out for non-white immigrants, killing five people and injuring Patel, within two hours.

But friends and family members wanted Patel to be in the court and detail his agony. They believe Bauhammers should receive the utmost punishment -- and his example should scare racists.

Patel's testimony -- along with those of psychiatrists -- will help a jury determine if Baumhammers, 35, was sane at the time of the murder rampage. Also killed on that day was Anil Thakur, 31, who was shopping at India Grocers. A Jewish neighbor of Baumhammers was the first person to be killed; two other Asians were also killed. And an African American who was visiting a gym run by an Asian also became a victim of Baumhammers's rage.

Baumhammers's attorney says he suffered from a delusional disorder that made him legally insane and limited his ability to tell right from wrong at the time of his murderous rampage.

Baumhammers, son of wealthy parents who migrated from Latvia, has pleaded innocent by reason of mental infirmity.

The jurors will also to have consider the other version: Despite his claims of temporary insanity, did Baumhammers know right from wrong when he went on the killing spree?

Pennsylvania law states that a mentally ill person can still be considered legally sane -- and found guilty -- if it is proved that he knew right from wrong when the criminal act was committed.

If Bauhammers is found guilty of first degree murder, as the prosecution demands, he faces death sentence.

"He said, 'Hey,' and he just [shot] me," Patel said, speaking slowly, his voice trembling, sitting in a wheelchair. Half a dozen of his friends and relatives were in the courtroom to boost his morale. Several times during his testimony, the frail-looking Patel was helped by an attendant who wiped tears off his cheek.

"I was behind the counter and this guy came in and [shot] me," he continued. "He shot me and I just fell down. I don't know [what happened] after that."

Patel, who has a degree in accounting, had been in America for less than 20 months before the shooting spree, his sister Leena Patel said. (Earlier police reports had identified her as Sangeeta Patel).

She said her brother had to be hospitalized for nearly three months after the shooting. In recent months, his health has been deteriorating and he has been permanently hospitalized because of frequent infections and pneumonia.

Authorities say Baumhammers resented non-white immigrants, including Asians and Jews, and chose his victims carefully on April 28 last year.

In Patel's mind there is no doubt that Baumhammers meant to kill him, too. People who have helped Patel over the last year say there are times he becomes so emotional and bitter while looking back, he wishes that he had been killed instead of having to live an unproductive life.

Refuting the defense thesis that Baumhammers was overcome by psychological problems, a police officer told the jurors on Monday that the alleged assailant did mention about hearing "voices" or being ordered to kill by invisible people when he was taken into custody.

"He had no emotions," said officer John Fratangeli, who arrested Baumhammers after the shooting spree said, according to Pittsburgh Gazette. "The way he's sitting there ... the way he looks right now, that was his demeanor."

Baumhammers remained silent when he was arrested and he continued to be silent during the 5-minute car trip to the police station, Fratangeli said.

He also said Baumhammers had control of himself and responded to police commands. He never trembled.

Earlier, witnesses had recalled how Baumhammers went from location to location -- and never exceeded the speed limit or overlooked a red light.


'Don't kill him. Chop off His Limbs'

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