Starlite Motel murder suspect found guilty on all charges

Hearing on a pre-sentencing report scheduled for Dec. 9

ROANOKE, Va. – A man could spend the rest of his life in prison after a judge found him guilty of murder Tuesday in the 2018 death of a Roanoke motel owner.

Timothy Church, who was 26 at the time of the crime, now awaits his sentence. He killed 60-year-old Ish Patel on Jan. 23 of last year at the Starlite Motel on Melrose Avenue, which the Patel family owns and operates.

The judge said in court that he wants to get to know Church better before deciding his sentence.

A date of Dec. 9 of this year has been set for a hearing to go over a pre-sentencing report that will include victim impact statements from the Patel family. The judge said he’d like to see Church’s mental health evaluation at that time.

The verdict
Church was found guilty on Tuesday of the following: murder in Ish Patel’s death, two malicious wounding charges from the injuries to Patel's wife and daughter and three robbery charges.

Church admitted to killing Patel but wanted to instead face manslaughter, a lesser charge.

The prosecution pushed for a murder charge.

“We have a willful, deliberate, premeditated killing,” Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Andrew Stephens said in his closing argument.

He argued that Church could have walked away at any time before killing Patel.

In explaining why the charge wasn’t dropped to manslaughter, the judge emphasized how gruesome the killing was -- the prosecution argued that a baseball bat was used -- and a threat Church made to Patel’s daughter during the incident, which was captured on a 911 call recording of the 8 to 9 minute encounter.

“I’m going to knock you out and kill you, just like your daddy,” Church can be heard saying on the recording.

The recording was played in full in court on the first day of the trial. Commotion can be heard as well as conversations between Church and the Patels.

The prosecution also submitted as evidence police body camera video that shows the frantic moments when officers arrived the night of the crime. They kicked in a door to the motel office, which prompted Church to run away.

Patel’s wife and daughter can be seen huddled on the ground, covered in blood.

The defense
Some members of the Patel family cried in court Tuesday when the defense gave its closing argument, which focused on the claim that the situation was a fight and not a beating.

Attorney Dirk Padgett expanded on the self-defense argument he put forth on the first day of the trial, saying no one knows what happened that day inside the office because it’s not clear from the physical evidence and the 911 call.

He said that there’s no proof that Church used a bat to kill Patel, pointing to a lack of blood evidence and the fact that no one saw Church use the bat.

Patel's wife and daughter said in court that they have no memory of what happened that night. Emergency workers and doctors testified that they suffered head injuries.

Padgett emphasized that it was Patel who grabbed the bat first, an action that meant Church was in a fight for his own life.

He painted the incident as a melee between the two men and Patel’s wife and daughter.

“The evidence completely supports that all four of them are fighting,” Padgett said in court.

The defense unsuccessfully tried to make the case that Church didn’t want to fight or kill anyone, highlighting a portion of the 911 call in which Church can be heard yelling at the two women to stay away from him.

The defense did not call on anyone to testify at the trial.

There was no explanation Tuesday of Church’s potential mental health problems, to which the defense had alluded on the first day of the trial.