The murder of 51-year-old Dilipbhai “Danny” Patel at Lina’s Food Store July 15, 2009 took two years to solve.
The case transformed into one of the most notable to ever come through the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office hopper and haunted detectives until a suspect, Jarvis Reeves, was in custody.
The trial proceedings are scheduled begin the first week of March in Baldwin County Superior Court. Prosecutors are expected to seek the maximum lawful punishment — life without the possibility of parole.
“We feel confident that we are going to attempt to prosecute the right individual, and we feel very good about the case,” Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee said.
The grand jury indicted Reeves in July 2011 on charges of murder, felony murder and criminal attempt to commit armed robbery relating to Patel’s death at the Irwinton Road store. The Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office made a presentation to the grand jury with 32 individuals prepared to testify as part of the special presentment.
Reeves was already serving time at Hancock State Prison for another convenience store armed robbery when indicted for the Patel murder.
On the night of the murder, a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the store around 9 p.m. after an anonymous tipster called 9-1-1 and advised the store had been robbed and that the tipster heard a gunshot from inside the store, a report from the night of the incident states.
Upon arrival, the witness informed the deputy that the store clerk had been shot by a black male, wearing a gray shirt, black pants, an Atlanta Braves baseball cap and large sunglasses.
The witness said the man left the store in a tan-colored sedan, possibly a Toyota Camry, and headed in the direction of Harrisburg Road.
Reeves was the primary suspect “almost immediately” after the fatal incident. Lt. Bobby Langford collected some of the major evidence the night of the murder by “doing old-fashioned police work,” which eventually helped solve the case according to Massee.
In the early days of the investigation, grainy videotape showed the gunman in the store but the age of the VHS tape and the re-recording process had taken a toll on the quality of the images.
“The tape had probably been in this machine for eight years,” Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee said. “We had an image that was so old we really couldn’t upgrade it.”
The quality of the surveillance video, the absence of the murder weapon and a lack of pertinent information from witnesses made the process nearly unbreakable.
Throughout the investigation, detectives ran down numerous leads, interviewed and re-interviewed witnesses, sent surveillance video to NASA to be touched up, and even posted pictures on various blogs and websites in an effort to solve the case.
The Internet’s tech community started contacting the sheriff’s office and offering help with the case. Massee said he was impressed with the online community’s contribution to try and solve the case considering this was the first time the department tried that avenue.
“The Internet community gave us advice telling us what to do with the tape as well as trying to give us leads and information to publicize that we had this murder,” Massee said. “We just had never run into anything like this. It’s almost like we had people all over the United States helping us with crime scene evidence.”
Eventually, a sketch of a suspect in the crime emerged.
The poster was widely distributed through the area, but in the meantime, the primary suspect ran afoul of the law.
Reeves had robbed the nearby J&P Food Store in August 2008. Then, just a few days before that armed robbery case was headed to trial in October 2009, Reeves attempted to rob the same store again, this time with an accomplice.
Reeves was arrested and pleaded guilty to armed robbery, criminal attempt to commit armed robbery and aggravated assault.
He received a 40-year sentence with 17 to serve in prison.
The community never forgot the “unnecessary and violent” murder of Patel.
The victim’s family, along with many members of the neighborhood and community around the store, regarded the victim as a quiet hero whose tragic death left a void.
Massee said the case must go to trial.
“We’ve got a fabulous Indian community in Milledgeville. A lot of them are merchants in our community,” he said. “You never know who is going to come into these stores. We feel like we need to prosecute this case to represent the people that work in these types of businesses.”