Prosecutor: 22-Year-Old Faces 40 Years After Pleading Guilty to 2017 Manslaughter, Armed Robbery

An Ocean Township man pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated manslaughter and armed robbery in connection with the 2017 killing of Trupal Patel, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced on Friday.

Joseph Villani, 22, of Ocean Township, pleaded guilty on Friday to: first-degree aggravated manslaughter, second-degree conspiracy to commit armed robbery, first-degree armed robbery, second-degree disturbing of human remains and third-degree witness tampering before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Joseph W. Oxley. 

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Villani faces a maximum term of 40 years in New Jersey State Prison, with 30 years subject to 85 percent of the sentence, or approximately 25.5 years, before any possible release on parole pursuant to the “No Early Release Act” (NERA). 

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.

The case background …

A Monmouth County Park Ranger who was collecting litter in the area discovered the body of the 29-year-old Brick Township man old along the side of Gully Road, down a slight slope. The Park Ranger reported the discovery at 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 Feb. 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 homicide had occurred at Joseph Villani’s Ocean Township residence on the afternoon of Feb. 6, 2017.

Villani was arrested in connection with the homicide on Feb. 25, 2017.  Additional investigation conducted by detectives revealed evidence that Villani conspired with his girlfriend, Raquel Garajau, to commit these crimes and that she aided him in destroying and concealing evidence in connection with the robbery and homicide  of Patel.

At his plea hearing before Judge Oxley, Villani admitted that, while dating Garajau, the couple planned to rob Trupal Patel. Villani stated that Garajau assisted him with the planning of the robbery and knew that he would be armed with a .22 caliber Marlin long rifle.

He admitted to shooting the victim three times during the robbery, which occurred within the garage of Villani’s Ocean Township home. Villani told the Court that after the killing, Garajau assisted him in hiding evidence and also shared in the proceeds of the robbery. 

Villani is scheduled to return before Judge Oxley for sentencing on March 21, 2019. He remains in custody at the Middlesex County Correctional Institution.  

This past summer, after a two month jury trial, Garajau, 20, of Tinton Falls, was found guilty of numerous charges, including: first-degree felony murder, second-degree conspiracy to commit armed robbery, first-degree armed robbery and second-degree 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.

Garajau remains incarcerated at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution pending her sentencing before Judge Oxley on Jan. 18. 

— Edited press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office