A shocking and fatal baseball bat attack from 2018 — which Roanoke prosecutors called “as brutal a crime as this court will ever see” — came to a resolution this week with the culprit receiving four decades in prison.
Timothy Mwandi Church, who will turn 29 on the last day of this month, was found guilty at a September bench trial of first-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and three counts of attempted robbery.
Those charges stem from a Jan. 23, 2018, incident in which Church forced his way through the office of the Starlite Motel on Melrose Avenue, to attack the manager, Ishvarlal Kuvarji Patel, 60. It’s believed he used Patel’s own bat against him.
Reportedly angry that Patel refused to loan him $20, Church beat the man to death, then attacked Patel’s wife, Jyotsana, and daughter Meeta.
The Patels’ 911 call that night created a 12-minute recording of the conflict that captured screams and arguments, the racket of violence, and the sound of Church repeatedly making threats and demands for both $20 cash and the motel’s security camera system.
“Give me the video or I’ma [sic] kill your daughter,” Church says on the recording, and he later warns Meeta Patel: “I’m gonna knock you out, kill you, just like your daddy.”
That audio was the centerpiece of the prosecution’s evidence at trial.
At a sentencing hearing Monday in Roanoke Circuit Court, Judge Chris Clemens listened to testimony from both Church’s mother, as well as a relative of Church’s three victims, before imposing the sentence: life in prison plus 45 years, suspended after an active term of 40 years.
In her testimony for the prosecution, Ishvarlal Patel’s eldest daughter, Pretal Muldoon, said she herself had lived with her family at the motel for several months while her father recovered from cancer surgery. She said she moved out less than a week before the attack, and that her father learned he was finally cancer free on the same day he was killed.
“How can we put into words how your actions destroyed our life?” Muldoon asked Church from the stand. “You took away a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother and friend.
“You killed my father in front of both my mom and sister,” she told him. “Your actions not only ripped apart my family, but yours as well.”
The lone defense witness, Timothy Church’s mother Grace Church, testified for several minutes about her son’s past struggles.
She said that as a child in Kenya, he had experienced mental and sexual abuse. His transition to the United States had been a difficult one, and he had begun to suffer from depression.
In the months before the Starlite attack, he was hospitalized for observation twice but released. Grace Church said she believed her son’s combined use of alcohol and Wellbutrin had caused him to suffer “a substance induced psychosis,” which she suspected sparked the attack.
“He was suffering silently and never knew how to articulate his pain,” she said, recalling that her appeals to doctors and to law enforcement had gone nowhere: “My voice, as his mother, was ignored.”
Roanoke Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Stephens, in his closing, said Timothy Church told police he had also been using cocaine prior to the assault, and he asked for the maximum on all charges, which could have left him with a life sentence plus 70 years to serve.
“He beat a 60-year-old cancer survivor to death, and he did it in front of that man’s wife and that man’s daughter,” Stephens argued. “He did all of that over $20, per his own words.”
Defense attorney Patrick Kenney, who was appointed to Church’s case after Church parted ways with his trial attorney, Dirk Padgett, said in court that it was clear Church would have to serve significant time, but he asked that he receive counseling and drug treatment.
“Mr. Church was struggling ... for years before this happened,” Kenney said. “He is not broken beyond redemption.”
Church did not testify at his trial last year, but he spoke in court Monday on his own behalf, and his quiet tone marked a stark contrast to the voice heard on the 911 tape as he addressed Patel’s family directly.
“I’m not a monster. I’m a good man. That recording, that’s not me. That’s not who I am,” he told them. “I’m truly, truly, sincerely, from-the-bottom-of-my-heart sorry for all that I’ve caused you,” he said.
He also addressed the woman who had come forward in his defense.
“Mother, I’m sorry,” Church told her.
During the 2018 attack, an officer who responded to the 911 call had to kick a hole through a locked door in order to intervene, and the situation they found was chaotic and gruesome. Ishvarlal was bleeding profusely from the head and face, and he died at the scene. Jyotsana and Meetal Patel, who are both small framed and stand about 5 feet tall, were also injured: Meetal suffered a concussion and Jyotsana was treated for fractures to her collarbone and wrist.
Ishvarlal “Ish” Patel was born in Mozambique and raised in Zambia. After studying engineering in London, where he met Jyotsana, he moved to the United States.
The Patels bought the Starlite Motel in 2006. In her testimony, Pretal Muldoon said the attack and her father’s death had ultimately prompted the family to sell the business.
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