Evidence challenged in wife murder

August 31, 2009 2:53:03 PM PDT
A Cary man accused of murdering his wife then setting her body on fire doesn't want a jury to hear statements he made to police before his arrest.Harish Patel was in court Monday fighting to keep those statements out of his murder trial in November.

Vanlata Patel's charred remains were found on January 16, 2008 just off I-85 in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

Patel's son reported her missing to the Cary Police Department on January 17 after she failed to board a flight to visit him in Canada.

Patel talked to Eyewitness News on camera before his arrest. He also talked to several Cary police officers. It's those conversations with police that he now wants to keep jurors from hearing.

Cary police detective Mike Lindley was assigned to watch Patel's every move in the days after Patel's wife, Vanlata was found murdered. He says on the afternoon Patel was released from a mental hospital, Patel walked out of his apartment and handed Lindley the phone.

A crisis intervention counselor was on the line.

"I spoke with a female who advised me that Mr. Patel called and stated he wanted to commit suicide," said Lindley.

Lindley called for someone to take Patel to the Wake Mental Health Center. Officer Donna Pell says while waiting for a doctor at the center, Patel said sitting around his apartment waiting on investigators was torture.

"Mr. Patel stated, 'If I'm guilty then I'm guilty and I'll accept my punishment. But I want them to be 100 percent positive. Then I will say 'okay' but I don't deserve to be tortured,'" she recalled.

The next week, Pell returned Patel's keys used during the search of his apartment. She says he sat in the same green recliner he used in his interview with Eyewitness News and told her he had spoken to his estranged wife the day she disappeared.

"As he was telling me about the phone call and making the statement about her possibly going by there, he paused and stated, 'I want to stop right there. I'll talk more about it later,'" said Pell.

On cross examination, Patel's attorney asked each officer if they had ever warned Patel his statements could be used against him. All had the same answer: No.

But all the officers said they had made it perfectly clear that Patel was not in custody and he was free to go. They say he continued to talk anyway, even apologizing for being so chatty.

The judge ruled that the statements were voluntary, that Patel's civil rights were not violation, and that the officers can testify about their encounters in front of a jury.

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