The woman accused of murdering an owner of the Budget Inn on Hill Street, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Troup County Superior Court.
Teleasha Wynder, 23, pleaded guilty to malice murder and robbery by force in the March 2012 murder of motel owner Taraben Patel, 64. Wynder stabbed Patel to death after demanding money from her while she was working at the motel’s front desk.
Monique Kirby, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, asked Judge John Simpson to sentence Wynder to life without parole before she called detective Hilton Swanson to the stand.
Swanson described what happened that night on March 16, 2012, when he arrived at the murder scene. He said he heard officers giving verbal commands to someone to stop running.
Officers had detained Wynder, who was covered in blood from head to toe, Swanson said. He found Patel, who was about 5 foot 5 and 160 pounds, dead with her blood-covered body lying half on the floor and half on the bed in a living quarter near the front office.
He searched the building, including room 26, where Wynder and her girlfriend were living. A trail of blood was found in the back of the building leading to the room where Patel’s body was found.
“The blood splatters in the room showed the violence and severity of the crime,” Swanson said.
There was a calender and heater in the room that were covered in blood, and blood covered a vast majority of the wall. According to the the crime lab and autopsy results, Patel had been stabbed in the head, three times in the chest, in her ribcage, twice in back and Wynder had attempted top cut Patel’s throat.
An autopsy also revealed that three of Patel’s fingers were almost amputated as she was fending off her attacker. Her body also had multiple bruises on the neck, face and arms, and her lips were swollen.
Swanson said Wynder’s account of the incident has changed many times.
In one account, Wynder told Swanson that she had left from her hotel room to go down to the vending machine to get a soft drink. The machine would not dispense the drink and would not give her her money back. She then went to the office area of the hotel where she said there was an irate woman on the phone.
Wynder said she told the woman that she wanted her money back from the machine, and the woman came from the other side of the desk and began yelling at her and pointing her finger in Wynder’s face. Wynder then said she was in fear and punched the woman, which caused that woman to grab a knife that was near the counter, and the attack began from there.
Wynder’s girlfriend told detectives that Wynder had a large, curved knife that she kept in the hotel room and had seen it in the hotel room that afternoon. Wynder, however, told detectives that her knife was stolen weeks ago and refused to identify the knife as hers, though the knife her girlfriend described matched the description of knife used in the murder.
Swanson said that a man near the room where the attack took place could hear someone screaming for help and could hear another voice demanding money, which prompted him to call 911.
“My intention was to get a soda and go back upstairs,” Swanson read from a transcript of Wynder’s interview the night of the murder. The transcript also revealed Wynder saying that she had blanked out during the attack.
Wynder’s girlfriend told police that Wynder had anger problems and a short fuse.
Before sentencing, emotion-filled testimonies from the families caused a tear-filled courtroom.
Patel’s husband of 41 years, Dhansuk Patel, who was in India attending his mother’s funeral at the time of the murder, pleaded to Judge Simpson to give Wynder the maximum sentence.
“I came only with her to the United States from India,” said Dhansuk as he broke down in tears. “She (Wynder) took everything from me.”
Patel’s only child confronted Wynder as she stood before him on the stand.
“I lost my mother,” he said to her. “Do you have a mother and a father?” he asked to Wynder, and she replied yes. “I want her to get the death penalty or the maximum, her whole life in prison.”
Patel’s nephew, whom lives in North Carolina, spoke on behalf of the rest of the family that had flown in from India, seated in jury seating.
“We want her to get the maximum penalty,” he said. “In Indian culture the families are really close, especially mine. When something happens to one, it happens to all of us. We don’t want anyone else to have to go through what we went through.”
Wynder’s parents pleaded for the judge for leniency on Wynder’s sentencing while apologizing to the Patel family.
“I’m very, very sorry for your loss,” said Wynder’s father. “We have loss to. We hope that you find it in your heart to forgive.”
Wynder’s mother bawled as she stood before the court in the last testimony to the Simpson.
“I don’t know what happened to her in LaGrange,” she sobbed while saying that she begged her daughter not to move to LaGrange. “She never got into any trouble. I know she needs to be punished for taking a life, but don’t take two lives. That’s not going to solve anything.”
Kirby told Simpson in closing that Patel suffered and was tortured the last few minutes of her life and her killing was a senseless act. She said Wynder is a dangerous person and deserves to spend the rest of her life in prison.
Defense attorney Jeff Shattuck asked the judge to consider a sentencing of life with the possibility of parole. He said that her family has already lost the ability to be with Wynder and to take her age and lack of criminal history into consideration.
Wynder was sentenced to life without parole for malice murder and 10 years to run concurrently with the life sentence for robbery by force.