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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Trial opens with visit to murder site

The Newport Daily News

Graham, 29, of Brooklyn, N.Y., has pleaded innocent to charges of murdering Patel, conspiring with Tajendra "T.J." Patel to murder the motel manager and firing a weapon during a violent crime. Graham's first trial, which was held last January, ended in a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Those jurors heard testimony from Patel's son and wife, some of Graham's friends in New York City and a variety of other witnesses that the state intends to call during this trial. But they never went to see the site where the murder occurred.

On Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General John E. Sullivan III and defense attorney Robert E. Mann led Graham's new jury on a brief tour of the property. The view focused on the entrance to the office where Patel was gunned down, the adjacent apartment where he lived with his wife and son, and a stand of trees that separates the motel property from the private homes on Sunset Avenue. Sullivan also pointed out several rooms, in detached buildings, that were occupied the night of the murder by guests who will testify during the trial.

The seven men and the seven women on the jury remained outside throughout the view, which included a drive by Pizza Hollywood on East Main Road. Graham and T.J. Patel ate pizza and chicken wings there before they drove to the Founder's Brook Motel & Suites on Jan. 1, 2002, according to previous testimony and a statement T.J. Patel gave to State Police.

In his opening statement to the jury Tuesday, Sullivan referred to Graham as an "assassin." The prosecutor said testimony from witnesses, cell phone records and statements made to police will show the jury that Graham conspired with T.J. Patel and then murdered Sanjeev Patel.

"All the evidence in this case point to Roger Graham," Sullivan said.

T.J. Patel was married to Sanjeev Patel's sister-in-law, Komal Patel, who left her husband in late 2001 and moved with her daughter into the Founder's Brook Motel & Suites, where she lived with her sister, Prena Patel, and her family. The sisters were preparing a special meal to celebrate the New Year when Sanjeev Patel was murdered in front of his 8-year-old son, who was playing on an office computer.

The state claims that T.J. Patel drove Graham to the motel and waited outside in the car, with the motor running, while Graham went inside and gunned down Sanjeev Patel. When Graham returned to the car, T.J. Patel drove him to Warwick and dropped him off at a gas station, where Graham hired a taxi to bring him to New York, the state says.

Mann, the defense lawyer, made no opening statement to the jury Tuesday. He will begin the defense's case after the state concludes.

The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Graham is being held as an illegal alien at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, a federal prison in Central Falls.

T.J. Patel was found guilty in November 2002 of murdering his brother-in-law, conspiring with Graham to commit murder and firing a weapon during a violent crime. He is serving two life sentences plus 10 years at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston, and has filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court.

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