JODHPUR, India – An Indian appeals court on Friday overturned the conviction of a U.S. teenager who had been accused of killing his mother while on vacation in western India.
The Rajasthan High Court ordered Joncarlo Patton's immediate release from a juvenile detention facility, according to Press Trust of India news agency. It was not immediately clear on what grounds the court overturned his conviction.
Patton was sentenced last year to three years in an Indian juvenile detention facility after he was found guilty of slitting his mother's throat at a desert resort in the western state of Rajasthan in August 2010. Prosecutors accused Patton of killing Cynthia Iannarelli, of Cecil, Pennsylvania, because he was traumatized over his parents' divorce. Police said Patton left the wrapped body on a sand dune near the Osian resort and was arrested at the airport as he tried to fly home.
Patton, who was 16 when he was arrested, has said he is innocent and has accused police of forcing him to confess.
The teenager's father, Richard Patton, said the family was overjoyed at his acquittal.
"While this does not in any way lessen the tragic death of Dr. Iannarelli, both the Patton and Iannarelli families are relieved and joyful with Joncarlo's acquittal, an outcome we have believed in and expected from the very beginning," Richard Patton said in a written statement.
The teenager's lawyer, Rahul Mehra, said Patton had been turned over to U.S. Embassy officials for repatriation.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said U.S. officials "are aware of the case and are providing appropriate consular assistance." He declined to comment further citing privacy concerns.
Richard Patton, a professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh, said the staff at the juvenile facility had treated his son "with kindness, dignity and respect under very trying conditions." He also expressed his gratitude to his son's legal team for working "tirelessly on Joncarlo's behalf as well as providing him friendship and support."
"As Joncarlo returns to Pittsburgh, his focus will be on getting back to his studies and activities and continued accomplishments that will make his mother and all of us proud," Richard Patton added. "At some future point, he may choose to discuss his experiences but for now he will focus on returning to a normal life."
He declined to comment beyond the written statement.