Jury hears testimony in Marine's death

January 28, 2008 5:37:07 PM PST
In the aftermath and fear created by Hurricane Rita, a man shot and killed his daughter's boyfriend. Now that man is on trial, saying it was simply self-defense. Testimony got underway Monday in the trial of Hardeep Grewal. He's accused of using an assault rifle to kill his daughter's Marine boyfriend. The trial has deeply affected both families, who are of Indian descent, and who had come to the US for a better life.

In the early morning hours of September 25, 2005, most people in southeast Texas assessed damage caused by Hurricane Rita. For Nitin Sarangapani, 24, a storm was just beginning. His 24th birthday celebration was winding down. By the time the sun rose, the Marine reservist was dead. He was hit by a single round in the chest, fired from an AK-47, Sarangapani died in the hospital.

"He was the only child," said Ram Sarangapani, the victim's father. "Nothing can replace that."

Grewal, his girlfriend's father, is the one who shot him.

"He was very calm," said Detective Eric Clegg with the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

The 41-year-old pipe engineer told Detective Clegg he didn't know who he had shot, but pulled the trigger in self-defense.

"Nothing really jumped out at the original scene, but upon talking to the suspect, my opinion changed," said Clegg.

The deadly encounter began with Sarangapani's birthday celebration. He took Grewal's daughter out to celebrate, but they got into a fight. Sarangapani dropped his girlfriend off at home, but after making at least eight angry phone calls, returned to the Champions home and began yelling outside.

"The suspect in this case called 911," said Detective Clegg. "The homeowner basically fired some warning shots off the balcony."

Grewal's lawyer told the jury the warning shots didn't deter Sarangapani. However, the prosecutor claims the victim never tried to get into the house or even commit a criminal mischief.

Even though 911 dispatchers told Grewal help was on the way, he walked out of his home carrying his weapon and eventually fired once.

He told investigators he feared for his life. But they and prosecutors see things differently. They call what happened to the 24-year-old Marine murder.

The trial is scheduled to go the better part of the week. Sarangapani joined the Marine reservists after September 11. He had previously been studying medicine.

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