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New charges delay murder trial for honors student, boyfriend

New charges delay murder trial for honors student, boyfriend

The trial of a college honors student and her boyfriend accused of killing a marijuana dealer will be delayed after a judge dismissed the original indictment in favor of a new one that lodges 11 additional charges against the Monmouth County couple.

Trupal Patel, who was found dead Feb. 22. (Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office)

Jury selection in the trial of Joseph Villani and Rachel Garajau, who are accused of killing Trupal Patel, was scheduled to start Nov. 29. Authorities say Villani shot and killed Patel in his garage on Feb. 5 before dumping his body in Shark River Park in Wall Township.

Just days before the start of jury selection, prosecutors filed a superseding indictment adding 11 additional charges to the previous indictment.

Attorneys for both Villani, 21, and Garajau, 20, argued in court last week that the new indictment was "prosecutorial vindictiveness" and a calculated move by the Monmouth County Prosecutors Office to delay the trial and to fill in gaps in its case revealed during pre-trial hearings.

Prosecutors said new bail reform guidelines, which entitle defendants to a speedy trial, made it challenging for them to comb through a large amount of evidence before the original indictment.

Both defendants face life in state prison, and the new indictment doesn't change that, assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Melanie Falco said in court last week.

Judge Thomas Scully Wednesday dismissed the previous indictment and allowed the new one to stand as the charging document, a spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office said.

The defendants will now have to be arraigned, have detention hearings and restart months of pre-trial hearings on motions to suppress evidence.

The new indictment claims that Villani and Garajau planned to use the marijuana obtained from Patel after the killing to sell to others. It also reveals that discussions to kill Patel might have started as early as May 22, 2016.

Patel's body was discovered on Feb. 22 by a county park ranger. According to police reports, detectives named Villani as a suspect after a friend told police Villani called him on Feb. 7 to help move a car the friend later recognized as belonging to Patel. After the ranger found the body, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office released a photo to the public of Patel's black Jaguar.

Villani allegedly told detectives "I did it" after they challenged him when he changed portions of his story during an interview, according to police reports.

On Feb. 25, authorities announced they arrested Villani, of Ocean Township, and charged with murder, robbery and weapons offenses in connection with the death of Patel.

Authorities say Villani continued to communicate with Garajau while in prison, instructing her to "take your time bleaching everything" and to talk up the bruises Villani had to back up his self-defense claims.

Garajau, an honors student at Brookdale Community College, was then named in the original indictment handed up on May 15. On May 26, she was ordered to remain jailed pending trial.

Her attorney, Robert Honecker, said in previous court hearings that there is no "direct proof" his client was involved in Patel's death.

Edward Bertucio, an attorney for Villani, claims his client acted in self-defense.

Both defendants, who remain in the Monmouth County jail, are due back in court on Dec. 11. 

Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.