As execution looms, families struggle with memories of 2004 murder and rape
For the past three months, Christopher Anthony Young has awoken in his 10-by-6 foot concrete cell on Death Row and had to remind himself: He’s scheduled to die soon.
As the day crept closer, the thought became more constant for Young, who’s sentenced to die for killing Hasmukh “Hash” Patel in 2004.
“What will it feel like to lay on the gurney?” he asks himself. “To feel the needle pierce my vein?”
Mitesh Patel, who was 22 when Young murdered his father, has anxiously anticipated those moments, as well. He wonders how he will feel when he files into the room adjacent to the death chamber and sees Young just feet away through a glass wall.
For years, Patel felt a deep hatred for Young. He wanted to see him die. Patel knew it wouldn’t bring his father back. But it was part of the process that started 14 years ago when Young, then 21, gunned down Hash Patel during a robbery at Patel’s convenience store on the Southeast Side of San Antonio.
Three months ago, though, his attitude began to change. He started speaking to two filmmakers who were working on a documentary about Young. He learned Young has three teenage daughters, feels deep remorse for the murder and wants to be a positive influence on children who were once like him.
Patel made a decision: He wanted Young to live.
For others, though, memories of the morning of Nov. 21, 2004, are much more difficult to forgive.
Just before the murder, Young pointed a gun at a woman and raped her at her home while her three children watched, court records state. The womantold the San Antonio Express-News she’s still furious with Young and can’t forgive him — at least not yet. So are her mother and her children.
“I don’t necessarily agree with the death penalty, but I can’t say I would spare his life,” said the woman, whom the Express-News is not identifying because she is a rape victim. “These are things you don’t forget.”
Young and Patel — along with their families — hope they’ll be able to stop Young’s execution, which is scheduled for Tuesday, and reduce his sentence to life in prison without parole. Both want to work together to start a mentorship program for young men who have experienced trauma and are prone to violence or gang life.
“You have to move past the hate,” Patel said. “If there’s a chance for positivity, go fight for that.”
The woman who was raped, though, doesn’t believe Young truly has changed.
Young’s family, including his three daughters, have been thrown into a very public debate about capital punishment. Two of his daughters were babies when their father was arrested. They have struggled to come to terms with their father’s actions, but they still yearn to have some sort of relationship with him.
The families have worked to provide a sense of normalcy for the girls so they can have a future. If the execution goes on as planned, Patel said he wants to be there for the girls to provide mentorship and guidance.
Patel said this path, one of forgiveness and advocacy, is one of the best ways to honor the legacy of his father, an immigrant who came to the United States in the 1970s to help his family. Hash Patel was 53 when he died.
“He was a genuinely good person,” Patel said. “Growing up, I always saw he did whatever he could to help.”
Young grew up on the East Side with his mother, Dannetta, and his four siblings.
He was a smart kid, his family says. He loved playing outside, especially basketball and football. He also loved to rap with his older brother, Don’ta.
Young lived with his mother, but he was very close with his father, Willard “Chuck” Young. The two would work on cars — his dad was a “car fanatic,” Young says — or go fishing. Young’s father was a cook, and Young loved his Southern dishes, like gumbo, jambalaya, rattlesnake and squirrel.
“I remember the snake,” Young said recently at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. “It was alright. It didn’t taste bad. I’d eat it again.”
Young’s father never explicitly talked about it, but in hindsight, Young wonders if his father was a gang member. Young doesn’t remember him wearing gang colors, but he did spend a lot of time with other gang members in the area. His Uncle Michael was a gang member, too.
When Young was 8, he spent the day with his father at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. March. Afterward, Young’s father dropped him off at his great-grandparents’ home. He promised he’d return in 15 minutes.
Hours passed, and Young’s father didn’t show. Late that evening, a police officer knocked on the door. Chuck Young had been shot five times during an apparent carjacking just blocks away. His body was tossed from the car onto the street. His white Cadillac was found miles away on the West Side.
Young doesn’t remember the next few days. It wasn’t until the wake, when he saw his father’s body in the casket, that reality struck.
Young’s grandmother, Cherlye “Belinda” Benson, said her grandson didn’t speak for two weeks after the murder. He was in a catatonic state.
Young was haunted by the murder. He remembers spending hours watching a VHS recording of a segment on a local news station re-enacting the crime. He still remembers the video vividly: Three men entering the white Cadillac, the actor playing his father getting shot several times through the seat, his body being tossed to the ground.
Young also clearly remembers seeing his father’s car after it was returned by police. Dried blood plastered the front. There was a bullet hole in the seat.
A few months later, another crime rocked the family: One of Young’s relatives, whom he was very close to, was raped and impregnated by her mother’s boyfriend, court records state.
Young became withdrawn, his family said. Once happy and outgoing, he now was quiet and reserved, rarely speaking in school. No one got him therapy.
After his dad’s murder, Young began spending more time with the local Bloods. He already was familiar with many because of his father. He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He wanted a sense of family. He decided to join.
A ‘happy guy’
Hash Patel immigrated to the United States when he was a young man to help his parents, who owned a struggling farm in India. His wife, Mina, stayed in India for a year before joining her husband. Their young daughter, Rinal, lived with her aunt and uncle before joining her parents a few years later.
Patel was a mechanical engineer — he had designed fire system sprinklers in India — but his degree didn’t help him in the U.S., so he worked a number of odd jobs. He lived first in Pennsylvania before moving to Texas.
In 1982, Hash and Mina had the second child, a boy, Mitesh.
The family bounced between Houston, Dallas and San Antonio before settling in the Alamo City in 1988. Hash decided he wanted to work for himself, so he purchased the Mini Food Mart on East Southcross.
Hash Patel was a hard worker. For years, he would work seven days a week, refusing to take any time off. Eventually, the family was able to convince him to close the store at noon or 2 p.m. Sundays so he could attend a Hindu temple.
Growing up, Mitesh didn’t understand why his father wasn’t home that often. Now, Mitesh appreciates the work ethic his father instilled in him and his sister.
Hash Patel was well-known in his neighborhood. He gave nickels to children who frequented the store and would allow kids to take home items even if they were a bit short on cash, Express-News archives show.
Patel bought a 1970 Buick Skylark when he first arrived in the United States. He still drove it, years later. Customers would look for the Skylark to see if Patel was there and the store was open.
One former customer told the Express-News in 2004 that Patel had prayed for him and offered words of encouragement when the customer had contemplated suicide. Another friend recalled how Patel spent several months beside the bed of a nephew who was injured in a motorcycle accident.
“He was a friendly, happy guy,” daughter Rinal Doshi said. “Everybody liked him. Everybody that met him liked him.”
Young, meanwhile, continued to grapple with his father’s death.
He began selling crack cocaine when he was 13, but he managed to keep it secret from his family. He smoked marijuana and drank, but he didn’t use hard drugs — at least at first.
At school, Young was uninspired. The schoolwork was too easy. He started missing school. When he was told he would have to repeat ninth grade, he dropped out.
LaKristle Dilworth met Young when she was 14. They fell in love and quickly became inseparable. With her, Young would talk about his father. “What if he hadn’t dropped me off that morning?” he asked her. “Maybe he would still be alive.”
Some nights, Young would sleep at Dilworth’s house. He’d often jump out of bed sweating after a bad nightmare, she recalled.
Benson, Young’s grandmother, knew her grandson still was struggling with his dad’s death. She encouraged Young and his brother to share stories of their dad. For the first time, she took Young to his father’s grave.
But Benson, who has helped raise all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, said she had no idea how troubled Young was. One day, when Young was around 16, she found a white substance in his room. It looked like bars of soap. She called her husband.
“Roy,” she said. “What does crack look like?”
That evening, Benson sat down with her grandson. “What are you thinking?” she asked him. “You stay away from that stuff.” On other occasions, she talked to him about the dangers of gangs.
In fall 2003, Dilworth found out she was expecting a child with Young.
The couple had been together for five years at that point, but Dilworth was growing increasingly worried about Young. He had always been part of a gang — something she was OK with, because she felt it brought them protection — but he had begun hanging out with even shadier characters, many of whom did hard drugs.
Finally, she decided to break up with him. She was several months pregnant.
Young began dating another woman, but he still had a good relationship with Dilworth. He would check on her and attend her prenatal doctor’s appointments, she recalled.
One day, after they had broken up, Young’s brother called Dilworth and asked her to stop by Young’s place. When she arrived, Young was high and agitated. She had never seen him that way. That’s when she knew he had begun doing harder drugs.
In June 2004, their daughter, Crishelle, was born.
That year, Young learned his new girlfriend was expecting a child as well. The pair fought often, and on at least two occasions, he beat her, court records show.
One time, two weeks before the birth of his second daughter, Young grabbed his girlfriend as she was heading home. He pulled her outside, punched her and threw her in a ditch, court records show. He stopped hitting her only after she lied and told him her water had broken and she was in labor, the records state.
Their daughter, Christajha, was born in September, just a few days after her father’s 21st birthday.
On Nov. 20, 2004, the day before the murder, Young’s girlfriend told him she wanted to permanently end their relationship. Young accosted her, records state, pulling her out of her vehicle, beating her and taking her car, purse and cellphone.
That evening, Young drank 15 to 21 beers and smoked marijuana all night, records state. He didn’t sleep. When morning came, he smoked crack cocaine.
About 9 a.m., Young headed to the Reserve at Pecan Valley apartment complex on East Southcross. There, he approached a woman returning from Patel’s store. He knocked on her door and forced his way inside, asking where the money was.
The woman responded that she had only $28. At that point, Young told her to get undressed and asked her to perform oral sex on him, the records state. Her three children, who were 7, 4 and 2, watched.
After the rape, Young forced the woman into her red Mazda Protege, but she quickly was able to escape through the passenger-side door. Young drove off without her. Minutes later, Young entered Patel’s store. Prosecutors said he pointed a gun at Patel and told him to “give up the money.”
Young, who did not testify in his own defense, said he still was “drunk as hell” at the time. He saw Patel’s hand go under the counter after he pointed the gun at him and Young assumed Patel was reaching for a gun. Patel, though, actually was reaching for the panic button. Young fired a shot away from him and told him to stand still.
Patel kept moving, he said, a statement backed up by court records.
“That’s when I shot him in the hand, thinking he was reaching for a weapon,” Young said recently. “The bullet went into the top of his hand, through his wrist and hit him in the chest. That’s when he fell.”
Young fled the store. Police found him later that morning, holed up in a nearby house with a prostitute and some drugs, the records state.
During the trial, Young’s lawyer didn’t deny that Young killed Patel. Instead, he argued there was no evidence Young committed the murder during the course of a robbery. No money was taken from the store, court records show.
Surveillance video from the store showed Young entering with a gun, but the audio was difficult to hear. A police detective testified that he could not discern what was being said. An investigator with the Bexar County district attorney’s office, though, said he could clearly hear the words, “Give up the money.”
Young also denied that he raped the woman. A rape test confirmed there was evidence of saliva on Young’s genitals and there was a 99 percent probability the saliva belonged to the woman, records state. However, the crime lab technician who analyzed the test did say it was possible the saliva belonged to someone else.
In a recent interview with the Express-News, Young said he expected to be found guilty of Patel’s murder. His family, too, understood there had to be consequences for his actions. But both Young and his family didn’t believe he should be charged with capital murder.
Young’s lawyer advised Young not to testify in his own defense — something Young regrets, in hindsight. According to Young, the lawyer said there was no reason to raise a defense because the prosecution hadn’t proven without a reasonable doubt the murder occurred during a robbery. Thus, they couldn’t sentence him to death.
When the jury did come back with his sentence, Young was shocked. His mother, Dannetta, gasped and fainted.
For years while on Death Row, Young remained bitter and angry, consumed by hatred. He still had a strained relationship with his mother and they didn’t talk for several years. But he did stay in contact with the rest of his family, sending letters regularly to his grandmother and relatives.
Roughly twice a year, he was able to see his daughter, Crishelle, but she didn’t understand the reality of his situation. She was a year and eight months old when her father was sent to prison. Dilworth, her mother, didn’t feel it was her place to explain what her father had done. She told her daughter he had been sentenced to life in prison, but avoided questions about the crime.
Young’s absence was difficult for Crishelle. When she was 5, she returned from a visit to the prison with dozens of questions. “Why can’t my daddy give me a kiss?” she asked her mom.
A few years later, when she was 8, Crishelle’s school hosted a father-daughter dance. Dilworth had to explain that Crishelle wouldn’t be able to attend. Every day leading up to the dance, Crishelle would return from school crying.
One day, Dilworth called her cousin crying. She explained her predicament, that no one was able to take Crishelle to the dance.
The day the dance arrived, Dilworth and her daughter got an unexpected visit from three cousins and Dilworth’s uncle. They were all dressed to the nines. Crishelle, it turns out, would be able to attend the father-daughter dance.
Around that time, Young’s attitude began to change, too. For years, he had refused to accept the reality of his situation. He was angry that he had been sentenced to death. But as Crishelle grew older, he realized he needed to mature for her.
Two years ago, when Crishelle was 12, Young finally explained why he was in prison. He also told her he had been sentenced to death.
“That was probably the hardest day of my life,” Young said. “It was even worse than getting the death sentence. To see her break, I broke down.”
Young longed to have a relationship with his second daughter, as well. As a baby, she was taken into state custody and put in the foster care system, making it difficult for Young to find her.
In May of last year, Young received a surprise. He had asked his brother, Don’ta, to reach out to Maria Marshall, a woman he had briefly dated as a teenager, because he wanted to reconnect with her. Don’ta contacted Marshall on Facebook and she almost immediately responded. Then, she told Don’ta that Young had a teen-age daughter, Na’Quita.
The news was a shock to Young. But then, he saw a picture of Na’Quita and couldn’t deny she was his child. She looked just like his mother and grandmother. She also looks like her half-sister, Crishelle.
Marshall, it turns out, had become pregnant when they both were teenagers. She tried finding Young after Na’Quita was born to no avail. Then, she heard about the crime and that he had been sentenced to death. She assumed the execution happened soon thereafter.
For years, Marshall tried to protect her daughter from the news. She told Na’Quita her father was “missing in action.” Eventually, she planned to tell her the truth: That her dad was a murderer who had been sentenced to death.
But then, Don’ta reached out. The news shocked Marshall and Na’Quita. At first, it was difficult. Na’Quita struggled to come to terms with what her father had done.
“I know he’s a better person now, but it’s hard for a 17-year-old to wrap your head around it,” Na’Quita said recently. “It was kind of hard at first, but now that I’m getting to know him, it’s more smooth.”
Due to Marshall’s busy work schedule, Na’Quita wasn’t able to meet her dad for several months. They did communicate by letter, and then, in November, Na’Quita met him for the first time. Their relationship is young — and challenging at times — but Na’Quita is glad she’s been able to get to know her father.
“You have to forgive,” Na’Quita said. “That’s the way I see it.”
A different perspective
For others, though, forgiveness isn’t that simple.
For several years after the crime, the woman Young raped struggled to get her life back on track. Then in her mid-20s, she moved in with her mother. She refused to open the door when the doorbell rang. Her family had to go grocery shopping for her.
Her children, who witnessed the rape, had a difficult time coping as well. Her oldest daughter, who was 7 when her mother was raped, had to be put on antidepressants. To this day, she still has memories of that morning.
The woman barely could sleep at night. She woke up with nightmares of Young raping her. Eventually, she began drinking heavily so she could fall asleep. At one point, she had a psychotic break and ended up in a hospital.
After Young was sentenced to death, she worried he might escape. She called the warden at the Polunksy Unit, where Death Row is housed, and had him describe the prison’s security measures.
The woman was raised to be a devout Christian and a God-fearing woman. But her relationship with God suffered. She trusts God less. “Why me?” she asks.
About five years ago, with help from her family, she began to get her life back on track. She started going to school and got her associate’s degree in education. She studied psychology and tried to learn what would compel a person to commit such a heinous crime.
The woman, now 39, has a 10-year-old son who born after the rape and has been a blessing in her recovery. But it’s been difficult at times, too. She won’t allow her son to play with toy guns because they bring back memories of that morning.
“It’s a shame,” she said. “Little boys like to play cops and robbers.”
For awhile, she was able to forgive Young. But recently, as the case began getting national attention, the wound was reopened. She doesn’t believe Young is a changed man.
“I believe he is a changed man because he went to prison,” the woman said. “He had no choice.”
As a Christian, she’s struggled to come to terms with the death penalty. She doesn’t believe in capital punishment, but she can’t force herself to advocate for Young’s clemency.
“I’m not asking for him to die,” she said. “I’m not asking him to live, either.”
She’s amazed by the Patel family’s strength, but despite her best efforts, she’s not ready to forgive again. One day, she hopes she can.
“I want to get back to my family,” she said. “I want my mind to be with them. I want my normal life back.”
A new chapter
After the murder, Rinal Doshi and Mitesh Patel returned to San Antonio to help care for their mother, Mina, and prepare for the funeral.
The family knew Hash Patel was influential in the community, but they were overwhelmed by the love and support that poured in. They estimate over 2,000 people attended his funeral. It was standing room only.
Six months earlier, Doshi had given birth to her first son. She stayed in San Antonio for several months after the murder, raising her newborn son and helping their mother. Mina and Hash Patel had been married for nearly 30 years.
“Her world collapsed around her that day,” Doshi said recently. “My dad was her whole world. She didn’t know how to cope with it.”
Every evening, Mina Patel would go to bed crying. Her daughter would try to comfort her, but she struggled to find the right words.
“What do you say to make her understand?” Doshi asked. “What she was wanting we were unable to give her.”
Every morning, Mitesh Patel would wake early and drive his father’s 1970 Buick Skylark, the car he purchased when he first arrived in the U.S., and head to the Mini Food Mart. Patel would park his father’s car in a parking spot on the far right, the same place his father parked. Eventually, the family sold the store.
To this day, the family still feels Hash Patel’s absence. Rinal Doshi talked to her dad every day on the phone. Sometimes, she still picks up the phone to call him before she realizes she can’t. Mitesh Patel was never able to introduce his father to his wife and three children.
For years, the Patel family supported the death penalty. In March, when a representative from the state of Texas called to inform the family that Young’s execution date had been set, it felt like the final chapter.
Then, about three months ago, two filmmakers arrived at Patel’s doorstep and explained they were working on a documentary about Young. They had video of Young apologizing directly to Mitesh Patel, and they wanted to know if Patel would like to see it.
At first, Patel was weary. He didn’t want to see the video. But he was interested in finding out more, especially after he learned more about Young.
Mitesh talked to his family, and they began rethinking their views on the death penalty. Together, the family decided to support Young’s bid for clemency. “Let him live and God will save his soul,” Mitesh’s uncle said.
Today, Mitesh Patel doesn’t know how he feels about the death penalty. “It hasn’t made the murder rate any lower,” he said. What he does know is it doesn’t make sense to execute someone like Young, who feels deep remorse and has a family.
After the Patel family came forward in late June, the case has gained national attention. A Change.org petition to support Young’s bid for clemency — which was subsequently rejected Friday by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles — has 40,000 signatures and counting. A NowThis short documentary about the case, published online earlier this week, already has 1.1 million views on Facebook and YouTube.
Several celebrities have highlighted the case, too. Common, a well-known American rapper, wrote about Young’s bid for clemency, as has Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent death-penalty activist who wrote “Dead Man Walking.”
On Monday, Patel’s wife, Shweta, gave birth to their third son. With support from his family, Patel has handled most of attention, all while juggling the duties of fatherhood.
On Thursday evening, after his wife was discharged from the hospital, Patel flew to New York to discuss the case on several national television networks. Breaking news dominated the news cycle, but he did film several segments about the case. In them, he speaks directly to Gov. Greg Abbott, asking him to stay the execution.
As the execution on Tuesday looms, Young’s legal options are dwindling. His lawyers have asked Abbott to issue a 30-day reprieve, which would allow them to pursue additional appeals. They have also sued the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, alleging the board’s decision to reject Young’s bid for clemency was influenced by racism.
Young isn’t afraid to die. “It’s the only thing in life that’s guaranteed,” he said recently. But he worries about his family: His mother, Dannetta, with whom he finally has a relationship. His 75-year-old grandmother, Cherlye, who helped raise him. His three daughters.
In the months leading up to Tuesday’s execution, Young has tried to help prepare his family for his death. His grandmother and mother have begun making funeral arrangements. If the execution goes on as scheduled, they’re planning a small wake and will bury him next to his father.
Initially, Young said he didn’t want any of his family to attend the execution. “I wouldn’t put nobody through that,” he said. “I don’t see any benefit in anybody watching somebody die like that.” But recently, he has indicated to his grandmother he might allow her to attend.
Crishelle’s mother will try to keep her daughter busy all day.
Dannetta will spend the evening in Livingston with her husband, after spending the day seeing her son a final time.
Cheryle will either attend the execution or quietly sit at home and say a prayer.
The rape victim will spend time with her family, away from the news, perhaps on the beach.
Mitesh will be at the execution. He wants Young to know he tried to save his life, and that he’s remorseful Young won’t be able to have a positive impact on someone else’s life.
“I can’t forget what he did 14 years ago,” Patel said. “He did what he did. The facts are the facts. He acknowledges that. But I can look beyond that.”
Emilie Eaton is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of her stories here. | email@example.com | Twitter: @emilieeaton