33 years

Trupal Patel. (legacy.com photo)

FREEHOLD, N.J. — A former community college honors student has been sentenced to 33 years in prison in the death of an Indian American marijuana dealer authorities say was shot by the defendant's former boyfriend.

The felony murder sentence imposed Jan. 18 on 21-year-old Raquel Garajau will require the ex-Brookdale Community College student to serve 30 years before being eligible for parole, The Asbury Park Press reported.

Monmouth County prosecutors said she and Joseph Villani plotted to kill Trupal Patel to steal and sell his marijuana stash. Patel's body was found in Shark River Park in Wall Township in February 2017. The defense argued she was a young woman in love who may have helped her boyfriend clean up the crime scene, but didn't help plan the robbery or murder.

Villani, 22, pleaded guilty earlier this month to aggravated manslaughter, and although he earlier insisted that Garajau had no role in the killing, said she helped plan the robbery and discussed cleaning up the crime scene afterward.

Garajau, who was also convicted of conspiracy, theft, and evidence-tampering, told Superior Court Judge Joseph Oxley that she maintains her innocence and ``had no knowledge'' that Patel would be killed. Under questioning from the judge, she denied having known that Villani would have a gun when he robbed Patel.

“I am not the person that I am being perceived to be, and I didn't do the things I am accused of,'' the former graphic arts student and law firm intern said.

Prosecutors presented witnesses, recorded telephone conversations and numerous text messages suggesting her involvement in drug dealing, setting up the robbery and trying to cover up the crimes. They said Garajau sent messages telling Villani to clean the bullets, bleach everything, move the dead man's car and throw the victim's belongings in the ocean, then said, “Facetime me please when you are done,'' and added, “I love you.''

“I'm not sure why anybody would be worried about cleaning the bullets unless they were intended to be used,'' said Oxley, who added that he believes Garajau was “intimately involved'' in planning the events that led to Patel's death and had shown no remorse for them. (See earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2DtpsJh)

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