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Opening statements presented in Cary man's murder trial

Posted December 1, 2009

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— After a day of jury selection, attorneys presented opening statements in the murder trial of a Cary man accused of killing his estranged wife and setting her body on fire last year.

Harish Patel is charged with first-degree murder in the January 2008 death of Vanlata Patel, who was found along Interstate 85 in Mecklenburg County, Va. The condition of her charred body made it difficult for medical examiners to determine a cause of death.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Doug Faucette laid out the state's case Tuesday, telling jurors that Vanlata Patel had been living with her son in Canada at the time of her death but was in Cary to decide on the division of the couple's marital assets.

Her son reported her missing after she failed to make a flight back to Canada on Jan. 18, 2008.

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

During a pre-trial motions hearing Monday, Harish Patel's attorney, Jeff Cutler, asked that allegations of domestic violence involving the couple not be admissible because it is hearsay. Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan, denied the motion.

"The Cary Police Department quickly focused their attention on Harish Patel," Cutler told the jury, saying that investigators ignored other evidence and narrowed their attention to his client.

The state began examining witnesses Tuesday afternoon and is expected to continue Wednesday.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks. If convicted, the maximum sentence Harish Patel could receive is life in prison.

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