Starlite Motel murder case: Defendant argues for self-defense

Family members of victim give emotional testimony in court on first day of trial

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - The fate of the man who admits to killing a Roanoke motel owner last year may come down to whether he acted in self-defense.

Timothy Church is charged with murder in the brutal death of 60-year-old Ish Patel in January of 2018.

On Monday, on the first day of his murder trial, his defense team argued for manslaughter, a lesser charge, but admitted that Church who beat Patel with a baseball bat, killing him and injuring his wife and daughter.

It was a cold Tuesday night in northwest Roanoke when Church approached Patel at the Starlite Motel on Melrose Avenue, which the Patel family owns and operates.

The defense argues that the interaction between the two men started outside the motel office sometime before 8 p.m. when Church asked Patel for $20. The two men then started fighting and their encounter spilled inside the office.

The defense claims it was Patel who got the bat first, hitting Church with it. The defense also said that Church has mental health problems.

The prosecution showed evidence that Church got the bat and used it to hit Patel in the head multiple times, blows which caused skull fractures and killed him before EMS crews arrived.

In court on Monday, the commonwealth's attorney showed a frantic 911 call from Patel’s wife that provided audio of the attack, the bat that was used and body camera footage that shows officers breaking down the office door and seeing Patel's wife and daughter covered in blood, huddled on the ground.

Jyotsana Patel, Ish Patel’s wife, and their then-24-year-old daughter, both delivered emotional testimony in court.

“He started shouting, ‘Call 911. Call 911,’” Jyotsana Patel said of her husband.

The two women answered questions about the incident and their injuries, which included head injuries and broken bones.

“My head was pretty damaged,” Jyotsana Patel said.

Her daughter had tears in her eyes as she was asked about the work her father did around the motel.

Some family members and friends cried while the terrifying moments of the crime were replayed in court through the 911 call and body camera video.

“Subject does have them on the ground, holding a bat,” the lead officer is heard saying.

Patel family members did not want to speak with 10 News after the proceedings, asking to stay out of the spotlight of the media.

The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. 10 News expects to hear testimony from Church’s family members and expects the judge to issue a verdict.

In May, a judge ruled that the court would wait for a report from a doctor regarding Church's mental health before the trial would proceed.

10 News learned last year that Ishvarlal Patel went by “Ish,” and Church, 26, goes by "T.C."

Copyright 2019 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.