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3 Men to Stand Trial in Deaths of 4 in Hollywood Hills Fire

Police testify that one defendant implicated the others, saying two brothers bound the victims before the house was set ablaze.

January 09, 2003|Steve Berry | Times Staff Writer

A judge ordered three men to stand trial for murder Wednesday after detectives testified that one of them implicated all three in the deaths of four family members in a Hollywood Hills fire that was connected to a business dispute.

Los Angeles Police Department Det. Jay Moberly, testifying at a preliminary hearing, said Carlos Amador admitted to him that Victor and Pravin Govin, who are brothers, bound all four family members and beat two of them.

Moberly testified that Amador, 26, told him he left the house before it was set ablaze.

Authorities believe the crime was motivated by a business dispute between the families of competing motel owners in Universal City.

At the end of the daylong hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Chidsley Jr. ordered the three to stand trial for murder. The district attorney's office has not announced if it will seek the death penalty.

The three are accused of killing Gita Kumar, 43; her son, Paras, 18; her daughter, Tulsi, 16; and her mother-in-law, Sitaben Patel, 63, and setting their Lakeridge Drive home on fire May 4.

Gita Kumar's husband of 20 years, Harish "Harry" Kumar, discovered the blaze when he returned home about 11 p.m.

Fire investigators quickly identified it as arson after finding traces of flammable liquid in more than one location in the house.

The Kumar family owned four hotels, including one in Universal City next to one owned by the Govins.

Both families planned to expand their businesses but needed access to the same alley, according to testimony Wednesday. The Kumars had refused to sign papers allowing the Govins to use it, Moberly said.

Moberly said Amador told detectives during interviews after his arrest July 25 that he did not plan to hurt anyone when they drove to Kumar's home. He said he thought they were there to discuss business matters.

Amador said when they arrived, Victor Govin, 35, went to the front door alone, met briefly inside with someone and then returned to the car and said, "Now it's time to go in and talk to these people," Moberly testified.

Amador told police that he and Pravin Govin had guns when they entered, and Victor was wearing a ski mask. He said Gita Kumar and Patel were ordered to lie on the living room floor and were bound.

The teenagers were tied up in separate bedrooms.

Amador said he saw one of the Govin brothers repeatedly kicking Gita. Paras Kumar broke free and ran into the living room, begging the intruders not to hurt his mother, the detective said.

Moberly said Amador told investigators that the brothers then beat Paras, tied him up again and returned him to the bedroom.

Amador said he told the Govins that he "had not signed up for this and would not take part in any of it," Moberly said.

Amador told the detectives that he then left the house, drove away and didn't learn that the home was burned and the family killed until the next day.

None of the defendants, who have pleaded not guilty to murder, testified at the preliminary hearing.

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