Trial of man accused of killing wife begins

Patel, 60, of Cary is charged with the murder of his wife Vanlata Patel.

December 1, 2009 7:21:29 AM PST
The trial of a Cary man accused of murdering his wife then setting her body on fire began Monday.

Harish Patel is charged in the killing of Vanlata Patel. Her 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.

That Harish Patel has been behind bars awaiting trial for a year and nine months won't be immediately apparent to jurors. Clean shaven and with a fresh haircut, he wore a two-piece suit for the first day of his trial.

The day started with last minute motions. One of the issues that had to be hashed out was whether the witnesses in the case will be allowed to hear the testimony of others.

Patel's attorney wanted all witnesses sequestered - including a number of the victim's family members who will be testifying - but also wanted to follow the case from inside the courtroom.

"[It would be] a lot easier for the court to police sequestration if until this trial is over they are just not allowed in here except for their testimony," Attorney Jeff Cutler told the judge.

Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan ruled in favor of the defense request - except that he will allow police investigators to remain in court throughout the trial. So no family members on even the potential witness list will be allowed in the courtroom before or after they are called to testify - if they are called at all.

That includes Vanlata Patel's son Ashish who was in the courtroom listening to motions.

Harish Patel has maintained his innocence - even appearing on ABC11 Eyewitness News to say he loved his wife.

Jury selection is expected to take about two days. If convicted of first-degree murder, Patel could spend the rest of his life behind bars without parole.

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