FREEHOLD – A Monmouth County jury returned a guilty verdict against a female college student charged in connection with the murder of Trupal Patel, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
Raquel Garajau, 20, of Frontier Way in Tinton Falls, was found guilty on all counts including to first degree Felony Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Armed Robbery, Armed Robbery, Conspiracy to Commit Theft of Marijuana, Theft of Marijuana, Conspiracy to Commit Theft of Cash, Theft of Cash, Conspiracy to Possess a Weapon For an Unlawful Purpose, Possession of a Weapon For an Unlawful Purpose, Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana, Tampering with Physical Evidence, Hindering the Apprehension of Oneself, Hindering the Apprehension of Another (Villani) and Tampering with a Witness, pertaining to the February 2017 murder of 29-year old Patel of Brick.
The trial ran for almost 2 months, beginning on July 17, 2018 and had 35 total witnesses, including lay people, law enforcement officials and six experts. Extensive evidence was discovered on the cell phones of both Raquel Garajau and Joseph Villani that included numerous text messages they exchanged, including messages from Garajau to Villani that stated “You need to clean the bullets,” “Take your time bleaching everything. The whole entire door and inside,” “Take that bag of stuff out cause I touched his phone.. We will throw that stuff in the ocean,” and “Babe you need to move that car it’s too important. Like ASAP. People will start noticing he’s not answering.” The evidence at the trial also revealed that while Villani was dumping Patel’s body, Garajau told him to “Facetime me please when you are done” and told him “I love you.”
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The charges were a result of a joint investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean Township, Wall Township, and Asbury Park police departments after Patel was found dead in Shark River Park on Feb. 22, 2017. A Monmouth County Park Ranger who was collecting litter in the area discovered the body along the side of Gully Road and down a slight slope. The Park Ranger reported the discovery at approximately 8:37 a.m., when officers from the Wall Township Police Department were dispatched to the area and confirmed the presence of a deceased male.
Within a short period of time, the deceased man was identified as Patel and it was discovered that he had been reported missing to the Asbury Park Police Department by a friend on February 9, 2017. A black 2003 Jaguar that Patel was driving prior to his disappearance was discovered abandoned on an Asbury Park street on that same day.
Ultimately, detectives involved in the investigation determined the incident had occurred at Garajau’s boyfriend, Joseph Villani’s Ocean Township residence in the afternoon of February 6, 2017. Villani was arrested for murder on February 25, 2017. Additional investigation conducted by detectives revealed evidence that Garajau conspired with Villani to commit these crimes and aided him in destroying and concealing evidence in connection with the murder and robbery of Patel. Villani is currently being detained at the Middlesex County Jail awaiting trial.
Raquel Garajau is scheduled to be sentenced by Superior Court Judge Joseph W. Oxley on November 29, 2018. She faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act” (NERA) requiring her to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole. Garajau would also be under parole supervision for five years following her release from state prison.
The case is being prosecuted by Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Melanie Falco and Stephanie Dugan.
Garajau is represented by Robert Honeker, Esq. and Tara Walsh, Esq., of Ocean Township.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.