Garage death verdict marks end for police

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012
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Shanal Kumar

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Police say they will no longer continue their investigation into the death of New Plymouth woman Dipti Patel, found dead in her garage after her accused murderer was acquitted by a jury yesterday.

A jury in the High Court in New Plymouth yesterday took just 2 hours to find the 42-year-old's former lover Shanal Kumar, 29, was not guilty of her murder.

In so doing, they rejected a four-week-long Crown case that Kumar strangled her with her children's skipping rope then made it appear as if she had hanged herself in her garage on April 7, 2009.

Expert witnesses, including a knot expert from Canada, were called to give evidence for the Crown.

After retiring just before midday yesterday, the jury returned to court to watch a videoed police interview with Kumar and returned with their verdict just after 3pm.

After the verdict, the officer in charge of the case, Mike Thorne, said police were not looking for anyone else in connection with Mrs Patel's death.

Defence lawyer Peter Winter told the Taranaki Daily News that he would like to thank the jury on behalf of his client "for a good, commonsense verdict".

Mr Winter had argued that his client was not the man seen in the garage where Mrs Patel was found. He said she either killed herself, or her husband could have murdered her when he got home from work, or had her killed.

The jury heard from Kumar's brother, Sonal Kumar, who said he was home with his brother at 9am, the time a property valuer gave evidence for the Crown that he saw an agitated Indian man in the garage in Gaine St, where the body of Mrs Patel was later found by her husband.

The defence also called a neighbour who said she saw Mrs Patel, who waved to her, about 10am.

At that time, CCTV footage shows Shanal Kumar was at Taranaki Base Hospital.

He told police he had fallen ill and his brother took him to the hospital emergency department for treatment.

After the decision, Justice Timothy Brewer thanked the jurors, saying they might have read of suggestions to have judges alone make rulings in such trials.

"I disagree," he said.

Juries made up of 12 New Zealanders were a fundamental part of democracy, Justice Brewer said.

It was their job to determine whether the case was proved to a standard beyond reasonable doubt. If they could not, it was a very important safeguard that they would acquit.

Justice Brewer excused the jurors from further jury service for five years.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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