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Murder trial for woman who set husband on fire begins

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Testimony is underway in the capital murder trial for an Indian woman accused of setting her husband on fire in North Austin in 2012.

Bimal Patel, 29, died in the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center almost five months after investigators say he was set on fire. The Texas Tech graduated had burns to 99 percent of his body.

Shriya Biman Patel, 27, is charged with capital murder, arson with intent to commit serious bodily harm or death and aggravated assault. If she's convicted of capital murder she will spend the rest of her life in prison without parole. Patel sits next to her attorneys in a sari, a traditional Indian dress for women.

Investigators say on April 17, 2012 a neighbor called 911 after hearing Patel scream for help from his balcony that he had been set on fire. According to Patel's arrest affidavit the victim was yelling, "Why have you burned me? All I wanted to do was love you."

Prosecutors call this murder horrific and investigators say it's some of the worst violence they've seen. The state says Patel had only been in Austin one week when she lured her husband into the bathroom for a massage. In the bathroom, they say Patel poured gasoline on her husband and set him on fire before shutting the bathroom door. Attorneys also say the smoke detectors and sprinklers were covered in the apartment.

The couple's marriage had been arranged through a service in India about a year before, brokered by Bimal Patel's father. Securing Patel's passport and paperwork had taken some time.

Patel's college friend, Jake Schwierking, told the jury everyone was Bimal's friend. He described his friend as happy that his wife was finally coming and he wanted to do everything he could to help her adjust to life in Austin. Schwierking described Bimal's financial situation as meager at best. He was a college graduate trying to pay bills.

Schwierking's wife Chelsea also took the stand. She and Jake traveled to India for the Patel's wedding. Schwierking described one on one time she spent with Shriya before the wedding. At the time, she assumed some of her nerves were just pre-wedding jitters.

"She brought it up to me there was another guy she lost her virginity to and she expressed she hoped by marrying Bimal he would get jealous and want her back," Chelsea told the jury.

She didn't tell anyone at the time except for her husband because she knew nothing was going to call off the wedding and telling Bimal would have hurt him.

The Schwierkings say they were ready to step in when Shriya arrived to Austin to make the transition a little bit easier.

Defense attorneys say Patel did nothing wrong and that her husband forced her to help him commit suicide. They argue he was under pressure and money was tight so much so he couldn't pay his bills.

In court Tuesday, Jerimiah Sullivan testified for the state. He retired from the Austin Police Department as a senior crime scene specialist. He was called to collect evidence inside the Patel's apartment. He bagged up 33 pieces of evidence. In his report he noted that the smell of gasoline was so overwhelming they collected some of the evidence quickly and out of order.

The emergency room doctor and paramedic testified Patel was screaming in pain "why would anyone do this to me?"

Prosecutors held up a long blue scarf with a big piece missing as if it had been cut from the fabric. They say the scarf matches pieces collected from the sprinklers and smoke detectors. A receipt from Wal-Mart shows nylon rope, masking tape, a lighter two candlesticks were purchased a little more than an hour before the incident occurred.

AFD Arson Investigator Captain Andy Reardon was the last to be questioned Wednesday by prosecutors. He described the strong smell of gasoline coming from the apartment when he arrived to investigate. He will be the first back on the stand Thursday morning.

The trial is expected to last one week.

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