Local News

Cary man to stand trial in estranged wife's death

Posted November 30, 2009

— Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of a Cary man accused of killing his estranged wife and setting her body on fire last January.

Firefighters in Mecklenburg County, Va., found the body of Vanlata Patel, 57, while battling a brush fire along Interstate 85 on Jan. 16, 2008.

Vanlata Patel Cary man stands trial in estranged wife's slaying

Two days later, her son reported her missing, saying she had failed to board a flight to Canada, where she had been staying with him.

Cary police arrested her husband, Harish Purushottamdas Patel, after a nearly month-long investigation that included searches of his car and the couple's apartment.

Police have released little information about the case, including a possible motive, but civil court documents suggest the couple, going through a divorce, had been disputing how their financial assets, including $400,000 in Swiss bank accounts, should be divided.

During a pre-trial motions hearing Monday, Harish Patel's attorney asked that allegations of physical abuse between the couple not be admissible because it is hearsay. Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan, denied the motion, allowing it, as well as testimony about the defendant.

Morgan must still decide on a defense motion to dismiss because of lack of jurisdiction.

"If they cannot prove where she was murdered, then North Carolina would not have jurisdiction to charge him and try him for murder," Cutler said.

It's unclear whether Harish Patel will testify, his attorney, Jeff Cutler, said. That decision will be based on the state's case, Cutler said.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks, and the witness list consists of 69 potential witnesses. Opening statements and testimony could begin as early as Tuesday, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Doug Faucette said.

If convicted, the maximum sentence Harish Patel could receive is life in prison.

According to a search warrant affidavit in the case, Vanlata Patel had been found wrapped in a comforter and tied with a rope. The body was so badly burned that authorities haven't been able to determine a cause of death.

During interviews with WRAL News before his arrest, Harish Patel said his wife often disappeared for days and that he was shocked when she was reported missing. He has maintained his innocence in his wife's death.

Investigators searched the couple's home and vehicles after her body was found. Subsequent searches, including one following a Jan. 26, 2008, 911 call in which Patel said he was dying after drinking too much alcohol, turned up enough evidence for his arrest on Feb. 11, 2008.

While responding to that 911 call, emergency crews and police saw a knife and other documents they thought might be relevant in the case, according to court documents.

In other affidavits, investigators said Harish Patel had been photographed inside a Circle K in Cary buying gasoline and a gasoline can the same day his wife's body was found.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • wildcat Nov 30, 2009

    He drank rubbing alcohol, he was trying to kill himself.

    Drinking alcohol just relaxes your muscles and body where you cannot do nothing. Life in prison without parole for this killer.

  • FragmentFour Nov 30, 2009

    That man has one very unhappy face!

  • larky74406 Nov 30, 2009

    He drank rubbing alcohol, he was trying to kill himself.

  • gcmann Nov 30, 2009


    Why does there have to be at least one person who does not read an entire post or comprehend what they read before they make a feeble attempt at insult. The usual answer is that they are trying to make themselves look better by trying to make others look bad. It does not work, but you may continue.

  • jhilfiker2001 Nov 30, 2009

    Surveillance has come a long way and it only tells the truth.

  • p02h03 Nov 30, 2009

    gcmann "This man is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law."

    Really? Never knew that. Thanks for enlightening us all. This isn't a court of law, it's a message board and is a court of public opinion. I say he's guilty, so there.

  • gcmann Nov 30, 2009

    If the moderator will allow these facts to be posted -
    This man is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

    I have done volunteer and Human Rights work over much of the world. This is a very common practice in india - the wife being burned alive. Not sure if this was the case here. Do an internet search on " indian wife burning "
    then read about the indian practice of Sati. Not very pleasant.
    Then think - this is where America is sending most American jobs, and this is the country from where 85% of foreign labor is being imported on H-1B and other sham visas.
    Why is there no outrage that America is doing so much business with countries with the worst human rights records.

  • vote4changeASAP Nov 30, 2009

    He's a mean looking you know what.

  • thefensk Nov 30, 2009

    Oh, they'll find something, if not the gas can, then something else. For instance, cell phones burn a lot of people, they just forget about the fact that their locations can be tracked and if they make a call, even better. "oh, you say you were in Florida? what about this call that bounced off a cell tower two blocks from the murder ..."

  • SkepticalGirl Nov 30, 2009

    You'd think if he's smart enough to learn to spell that middle name of his, he'd be smart enough not to buy a gas can the same day he burns the evidence. DUH!