Arrests made in murder of Indian-American store-owner in South Carolina indicate possible hate-crime

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Top left, Jaquinton Tradell Blair, top right Lajames Arteian Ross, bottom, Richard Devauhn Stewart. The three were arrested in the shooting death of convenience store owner Harnish Patel March 2. (Photos: Lancaster County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Office, Facebook)

According to the Lancaster County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Office, three men have been arrested in connection with the murder of Harnish Patel on March 2 this year. Patel, a convenience store owner, was shot to death outside his home.

In a June 21 update provided by the Sheriff’s office June 21, arrests have been made in connection with the homicide — Jaquinton Tradell Blair, age 23, of Lancaster, was arrested on June 6, and charged with ‘Conspiracy to Commit Armed Robbery’; Lajames Arteian Ross, age 22, of Charlotte, was arrested on June 8, and also charged with Conspiracy to Commit Armed Robbery; and Richard Devauhn Stewart, age 42, of Lancaster, was arrested on June 8, and charged with Conspiracy to Commit Armed Robbery and ‘Accessory Before the Fact of Attempted Armed Robbery’.

The state.com news outlet says arrest warrants for the accused show the suspects referred to Patel as “the Indian”, that he carried a gun, and therefore they would need to be armed to rob him. Police and court documents show the three are accused of a conspiracy to “smash an Indian,” the news outlet reported.

All three remain in the Lancaster County Detention Center. Blair and Ross have $85,000.00 bonds, and bond was denied for Stewart, news reports said.

“Although no one has yet been charged with the murder of Mr. Patel, our investigators continue to work this case hard,” Sheriff Barry Faile, said on the Facebook update. “We are continuing to put information together and will not slow down until we are satisfied we have the whole story and have arrested the person or persons directly responsible for Mr. Patel’s death.”

Patel, 43, was found dead in his front yard near the side-door of his house with gunshot wounds. Police responded to calls that gunshots and screaming were heard in the neighborhood that night at around 11:30 pm.  Responses from the public to the arrests were laudatory. Michelle Leigh Lowery said, “Great job lancaster county sheriff office! That was one of the sweetest men around …” referring to Patel, who was well-liked in his neighborhood.

Patel owned Speedee Mart located on Pageland Highway in Lancaster. Police are continuing the investigation and have asked anyone who saw anything at the store or in the area, to let them know.

“Arrest warrants are the first indication that the crime is believed to have been a hate crime against an Indian immigrant,” state.com said. It also reported that Blair and Ross are being held under an $85,000 bond while Stewart is being held without bond, and is reported to have provided the other two with the ammunition for the robbery.

Patel’s death shook the Lancaster community where he was well-regarded. It also shook the Indian-American community concerned with a perceived rise in attacks on members of the community around the country. The news also made headlines in India.

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