Three persons have been arrested and charged in the US in connection with the murder case of a 43-year-old Indian-origin store owner who was gunned down outside his home in South Carolina in March. The incident had sent shockwaves through the Indian- American community in the country. Harnish Patel, the owner of a convenience store in Lancaster County, was found dead of gunshot wounds in the front yard of his home. The three persons are accused of a conspiracy to commit robbery, in what police documents describe as a “smash an Indian” incident, The Herald newspaper reported.
Police have not charged anyone with murder, it said. Jaquinton Tradell Blair, 23, LaJames Arteian Ross, 22, and Richard Stewart, 42, had roles in the robbery and conspiracy, according to the arrest warrants released yesterday. Blair and Ross, charged this month with conspiracy to commit armed robbery, are both jailed under USD 85,000 bond, the report said, adding that Stewart was charged with conspiracy and accessory to armed robbery before the fact. Stewart is being held without bond.
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Stewart allegedly consulted with the suspects, provided ammunition and information for the robbery and “did nothing to prevent the incident”, arrest warrants said. The warrants cite the words “smash an Indian”, as used by the three people arrested, the report said, adding that the phrase is the first indication that the crime could possibly have been a hate crime. Doug Barfield, spokesman for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, said that he was not aware of any hate crime probe launched by federal authorities. Hate crimes are generally considered federal offenses.
“We helped the family through this tough time, but this news raises some questions about where we stand and how safe we are in the country,” said Shard Patel, president of the Rock Hill Indian Association. “We definitely want justice for the family,” Sharad said. Patel closed his store and drove in his silver minivan to his nearby home where authorities believe he was confronted by his killer. The store is about 6 km from his house.
He had locked up his nearby store less than 10 minutes before he was found dead, police said. Patel’s death was reported close on the heels of the shooting in Kansas of a 32-year-old Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed when 51-year-old US Navy veteran Adam Purinton opened fire at him and his friend Alok Madasani at a bar before yelling “get out of my country.” The shooting had sent shockwaves across the Indian- American community with people expressing concerns over their safety in an environment of xenophobic and racist rhetoric in the country.