Stark evidence and detailed testimony this week did not answer every question about the brutal 2018 slaying of a southwest Roanoke motel manager, but the pictures they drew were harrowing and potent.
Ultimately, after a two-day bench trial, the prosecution’s case prompted a judge on Tuesday to find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder, two types of malicious wounding, and three counts of attempted robbery.
Timothy Mwandi Church now faces the prospect of up to two life sentences plus 50 years in prison. The 28-year-old Roanoke man is due to be sentenced Dec. 9.
Roanoke Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Stephens maintained that on Jan. 23, 2018, Church used a baseball bat to fatally strike 60-year-old Ishvarlal Kuvarji Patel and to injure Patel’s wife and daughter, Jyotsana Patel and Meeta Patel.
Ishvarlal Patel died of blunt force trauma to the head. While medical examiner Sara Ohanessian was unable to say whether the bat found near his body was used to cause his injuries, she said he suffered fractures to the frontal bone of his forehead, his cheekbone and his nasal bone, brought on by “at least two strikes, if not more.”
The centerpiece of the prosecution’s evidence was a 12-minute audio recording made by dispatchers after the Patels called 911 to report that Church had forced his way into their apartment at the Starlite Motel on Melrose Avenue, a business the family owned and operated.
Exactly what set off the confrontation between Church and the Patels is not entirely clear, but testimony suggested that Church wrecked a car near the Starlite that night, then approached Ishvarlal Patel — whom he knew, and to whom he owed money — and asked him for $20. When that request was refused, Church apparently forced his way into the family’s home and the fight began.
The 911 call, played during the trial, aurally documents the extended scuffle.
One minute in, Church warns someone: “You hit me with that, I swear to God, I will hurt you so bad.”
What follows, as described on the transcript, is “30 seconds of undistinguishable noises, screaming, and sirens,” after which Ishvarlal Patel no longer speaks.
But the recording goes on another 10 minutes, as Church is heard making repeated demands for $20, ordering the family to give him the motel’s security video. Screams and the racket of impacts punctuate the audio.
“Give me the video or I’ma kill your daughter,” Church says on the recording.
“I’m gonna knock you out, kill you, just like your daddy,” he later warns Meeta Patel.
That exchange continued until Roanoke police forced their way into the apartment. Church dived through a window, then led officers on a foot chase across Melrose, toward the nearby Country Cookin’ restaurant, where he was taken into custody.
“That recording is dripping with malice,” Stephens argued.
Other prosecution witnesses during the trial included:
- Roanoke Officer L.C. Tate, who was among the first to respond to the Patels’ 911 call. Tate presented footage from his body camera that showed him sneak up to the motel and spot Jyotsana and Meeta Patel through a window, huddled on the floor, “covered in blood” as Church stood over them with a bat. Although the nearest door was locked, Tate said, “I immediately started kicking,” and his footage showed he was able to get inside the motel in a matter of seconds. “I destroyed the door … tore the door apart,” Tate said.
- Det. W.A. Engel, who interviewed Church in the hospital hours after the incident. That recording was also played, and while Church ended the interview by asking for a lawyer, he later used Engel’s phone to call his girlfriend, a conversation that was also recorded, including Church’s admission that he acted in “self-defense, but I took it a little too far.”
- Jayson Anuszkiewicz, a Roanoke paramedic who responded to the Starlite and treated the Patels, including Ishvarlal, whom he said was bleeding profusely from his head and face. Anuszkiewicz said Patel had what appeared to be cerebrospinal fluid leaking from his ears, which he said indicated “substantial brain trauma.” An EKG exam later confirmed he had died at the scene.
- Jyotsana and Meeta Patel. Both women are similarly small-framed and stand about 5 feet tall. Meeta Patel suffered a concussion and testified that she did not remember the attack. Jyotsana Patel said her husband had been recovering from cancer surgery he had undergone about three weeks earlier. “He was quite weak,” she said. “He was talking very loudly with someone ... then he was shouting ‘Call 911.’” She was treated for a fractured collarbone and a fractured wrist.
Aside from answering basic procedural questions, Church said nothing during the trial and mostly sat still, his hands folded on his lap, his head tilted down so that his chin very nearly touched his chest. He kept a copy of the Good News Bible on the table in front of him.
Church did not testify and called no witnesses on his behalf.
Defense attorney Dirk Padgett positioned it as a case of self-defense, and argued that the bat belonged to the Patels and that the family had assaulted Church.
“Did he kill Mr. Patel? He did,” Padgett said.
“It was Mr. Patel who grabbed Mr. Church and said, ‘You’re not going in there,’” he claimed. “He takes the bat away and defends himself.”
Judge Chris Clemens, largely citing the statements on the recording, said the evidence more than supported a finding of guilt on all six charges.
Church’s case saw repeated delays over the past two years as his competency to stand trial was evaluated. His initial lawyer in the case attempted to pursue an insanity defense, but that was later withdrawn.
According to Ishvarlal Patel’s obituary, his friends called him “Ish.” He was born in Mozambique and raised in Zambia, on his family’s farm. He later studied engineering in London, where he met Jyotsana Patel. Ultimately he came to the United States, residing first in Texas and then settling with his family in Roanoke. His daughter said he bought the Starlite Motel sometime in 2006.