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Trial to Begin in Quadruple Slaying

Two brothers are accused of strangling members of a business rival's family, then setting their home in the Hollywood Hills on fire.

March 25, 2004|Christiana Sciaudone | Times Staff Writer

Carlos Amador says he watched Virendra Govin use a strip of plastic to strangle a 42-year-old mother as Govin's brother, Pravin, punched her repeatedly. Her two teenage children and her mother-in-law were strangled next.

They then set the victims' Hollywood Hills home on fire, burning it so thoroughly that the coroner's office could not determine if the family had died of strangulation or the blaze, according to prosecutors.

Opening statements are scheduled today in a Los Angeles courtroom for the trial of Pravin "Peter" Govin, 34, and Virendra "Victor" Govin, 36, charged with murder, arson, robbery, burglary and kidnapping.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against both men, in part because they alleged the killings were motivated by financial gain.

But a defense lawyer said that Amador lied to prosecutors to escape the death penalty himself. Attorney John Sweeney said evidence will show that his client, Pravin Govin, was not present at the scene of the killings on May 4, 2002. Virendra Govin's attorney declined to comment.

Amador, also accused in the case, made a deal with investigators last year and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He is scheduled to be sentenced to four concurrent terms of 15 years to life in prison after he testifies against the Govins.

"He has tremendous motive to lie because of the deal," said Sweeney. "When all the evidence has been presented, it will be very, very clear what motive he had and that he is a liar."

The motive for killing the mother, Gita Kumar, her children, Paras Kumar, 18, Tulsi Kumar, 16, and her mother-in-law, Sitaben Patel, 63, according to prosecutors, was financial gain stemming from a business dispute.

The Govins own a hotel, Studio Place Inn, at 10740 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City.

The surviving member of the Kumar family, Gita Kumar's husband, Harish Patel, 48, owns the hotel next door -- Universal City Inn, at 10730 Ventura Blvd., according to court records.

Both hoteliers had plans for expansion, court documents show. At issue was a back alleyway that both parties wanted to use.

A hearing before the Los Angeles City Planning Commission on the dispute had been scheduled for mid-May, just days after the killings. According to court documents, "the defendants were well aware of this deadline date."

In an interview with police, Virendra Govin said the land dispute had been resolved before the killings.

Govin said that at first the contractors handling the owners' expansion projects did not get along.

"So then what we did is, from our plan, we provided a loading zone, which we can both use," he told police, according to the court file. "So no conflicts there at all."

In another court document, Sweeney said that Harish Patel had told detectives in interviews that the Govins and the Kumars "got along well and there was no animosity between the families."

The Govins and Amador were arrested in July 2002 after an investigation by police that included wiretaps, according to court documents. In a search warrant in the file, a detective wrote: "During the period of electronic monitoring, the suspects have been heard to discuss alibi locations, alibi witnesses, and the need to proceed with caution."

Pravin Govin was convicted in 1993 of assault with a deadly weapon, according to court documents. He shot and wounded a man who had recently sold him an auto body shop, according to court records. Amador, who worked at the auto body shop, told police last year that Pravin Govin had solicited his help in that 1993 attempted murder, but Amador declined to participate, court records show.

Amador told police that on May 4, 2002, he and the Govin brothers met at a Chinese restaurant in North Hollywood before driving to the Kumar home on Lakeridge Drive.

Amador told police that Gita Kumar, her mother-in-law, and her two children were taken into a bedroom and plastic strips known as "zip ties" were looped around their necks, court documents show.

Virendra Govin started pulling the ties closed, according to court records.

"Gita started gagging, trying to get some air," Amador told police. "And she's kicking. Peter ties her legs, bends them over, hooks them together by her wrist."

Paras Kumar broke free of his constraints and said: "Don't hurt my mother," before the Govin brothers subdued and bound him again, according to court records.

Down the block, a neighbor's private surveillance system recorded what appeared to be Amador's truck driving to the house at 8 p.m., and leaving just after 11 p.m., according to court records. Harish Patel is seen on his way home about six minutes later, followed 12 minutes later by a firetruck.

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