They didn’t speak English.
Didn’t have to.
The parents of 22-year-old Vedant Patel, a promising engineering student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, spilled their grief in court Monday over the loss of their only son, who was stabbed to death by a K2-addled roommate.
They wailed — their faces twisted with raw emotion — saying they wished they were dead.
Then came the sentence. Judge Peter Bataillon sentenced Gregory Dodds to 30 to 45 years in prison, citing testimony by two psychiatrists that Dodds was insane at the time of the crime because of his rampant use of K2.
Under state sentencing guidelines, Dodds, 24, will serve 15 to 22½ years for stabbing his roommate seven times and slashing him three times. He had faced 21 years to life in prison after pleading no contest to second-degree murder and weapon use.
Patel’s parents, who brought their son to the United States in 2008, were so grief-stricken as they left court that Patel’s mother had to be held up by relatives.
In a heart-wrenching 90-minute hearing, both Patel’s family and prosecutors urged the judge to not reward Dodds by giving him a lesser sentence because of his drug abuse.
After the sentence, Patel’s uncle urged the government to outlaw K2, a drug that was also recently blamed for the death of a Greenwood, Neb., teen.
Patel’s parents lumbered out of the courthouse — his mother clutching a framed photo of her son as relatives steadied her.
“They’re very disappointed,” said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine. “And we are, too. It’s a poor message to send that, because he used drugs two weeks before, it somehow mitigates what he did.”
Bataillon noted that Dodds had no criminal record.
The judge wasn’t the only one who cited Dodds’ debilitating drug use. Two psychiatrists — one for the state, one for the defense — diagnosed Dodds as having schizophrenia brought on by his rampant K2 use. Dodds believed he was acting out a “righteous mission” and “something big, something spiritual” was going to happen if he killed Patel, the doctors said.
Dodds, who shared a condo with his brother and Patel, broke into Patel’s room and stabbed him as he lay in bed.
Assistant Public Defender Leslie Cavanaugh said Dodds, now sober, is “mortified” by his actions. She noted that he had no record and he had no intention of doing anything with K2 besides getting high.
Dodds purchased K2 at Lincoln and Council Bluffs head shops and had last used it two weeks before the attack. However, the cumulative use of K2 — he started using it in 2011 — increased his paranoia and his irrational thoughts, Cavanaugh said.
Dodds came to believe that Patel had set up video cameras throughout the city to monitor Dodds’ behavior, Cavanaugh said. He also thought that Patel had planted ideas in his mind via television news, and that “God had placed Vedant in his path” to test Dodds, Cavanaugh said.
After the slaying, Dodds looked up to the sky and believed he saw a sign of approval by the way two stars had lined up.
Cavanaugh said Dodds never connected K2 to his paranoid delusions because they happened “long after the high had worn off.”
“These are crazy, crazy thoughts — all induced by K2,” Cavanaugh said.
Prosecutors weren’t so sure.
They noted that Dodds had a history of abusing other drugs — mushrooms, marijuana and cocaine. Prosecutor Nissa Jones said Dodds had indicated that one reason he kept taking K2 was because he enjoyed its mind-altering effect.
His family staged an intervention four months before the slaying, but a psychologist determined that he couldn’t conclude Dodds was both mentally ill and dangerous — prerequisites for committing someone to a treatment facility.
Dodds’ brother and other roommate, Stephen, had called the Boys Town hotline the day of the killing, but didn’t believe Gregory Dodds was homicidal.
“He’s mortified that what he regarded as low-level drug use had that effect,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s horrified by his actions.”
Said Dodds: “I’m going to have to live with this for the rest of my life. Nothing I can say is going to change anything, but I owe you at least an apology.
“Sorry ... I’m sorry.”
While prosecutors decried the sentence, Kleine said the state won’t appeal. The term was well within the sentencing guidelines, and an appeal would be futile, he said.
“This was completely preventable,” Jones said. “The long-term, intentional choices by the defendant are the sole reason we are here.”
Dodds’ actions brought the Patel family to Omaha on Monday. Proper and formal, Ashok and Chondrika Patel filed to the front of the courtroom and proudly spoke of their only son.
In emotionally draining testimony, each talked for a half-hour about what they sacrificed to move from India to the United States so their son would have a better college education. The couple settled in New Jersey and operated a small retail store.
Vedant Patel — the kind of person who would stop at a pickup soccer game and make five friends before he left — spoke to his father for two hours the day before he died.
Vedant had purchased a suit for his college graduation and already had landed a job as an engineer at John Deere.
To his mother, he said, “Mom, when I get my paychecks, you won’t have to work anymore.”
Eighteen months later, those proud parents asked Bataillon to sentence Dodds to life.
“Vedant is not alive now,” Chondrika Patel said. “We are. What is the point? I pray to God to give us death as soon as possible. That is what I pray.”
At one point her husband placed his glasses on a courtroom table and sobbed. He covered his face with his hands — his words garbled by grief.
“He says he doesn’t want to show his crying face to everyone,” a courtroom interpreter relayed. “He wants to die.”