And then hours after one message, Arlington prosecutors said, he turned sinister. He is accused of killing the woman’s ex-boyfriend — the father of her son — possibly to help her with a difficult custody situation.
A judge in Arlington General District Court agreed Monday that there was probable cause to indicate that Patel broke into John Giandoni’s townhouse in Ballston on March 15 and shot, stabbed and choked him to death.
“It’s clearly a case of circumstantial evidence,” Judge Frances O’Brien said, but certain pieces were “certainly incriminating,” she added — particularly a gun found in Patel’s home safe that matched bullets from the crime scene. “It’s simply not coincidental,” she said.
Patel, 42, of Woodbine, Md., was not charged with murder until four months after Giandoni’s death. On Monday, witnesses described the complicated relationships that prosecutors allege led to the attack.
Giandoni, 40, met his former girlfriend through work, his sister Jenna Giandoni testified Monday. They became intimate, but it was a “tumultuous relationship,” Jenna Giandoni said. The woman had lied about being separated from her husband and lied to her then-spouse about the child she and Giandoni had in 2013, she said.
“He had fought a long battle to gain custody,” Jenna Giandoni testified. “They had a strained relationship.”
The child was with his mother every Thursday and every other weekend. It was a long trip from her home in Columbia, Md., Jenna Giandoni said — sometimes two hours each way in traffic.
Prosecutors said that at some point, the woman began dating Patel, a married father.
A surveillance video played in court from the afternoon of Giandoni’s death showed a dark minivan park by Giandoni’s townhouse about 2 p.m. and someone exit the car and go inside.
Giandoni arrived home about three hours later. Half an hour after that, a figure is seen leaving and getting back into the minivan, later identified as a Kia Sedona.
Patel drove a gray Kia Sedona, with a luggage rack and tire markings that police said matched the van from the video. But they were never able to identify the driver or read the license plate from the recording.
Police got a warrant to search Patel’s home in May, after several weeks of surveillance. In his bedroom, they found a safe with a 9-millimeter pistol inside, along with eight boxes of cartridges. Seven were full, officers testified, but one was missing two bullets.
One bullet was found behind a smashed candle on Giandoni’s kitchen counter, and the other was found in his body. He had been shot in the head and the arm, medical examiner Jocelyn Posthumus testified.
The bullets, a firearms examiner testified, matched Patel’s gun.
“The evidence in this case, while circumstantial, is very strong,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andy Parker said in court.
Public defender Brad Haywood said Patel was innocent.
The texts “at most show that our client was having an affair,” he said. “He didn’t commit this crime.” Instead, he said, police should have looked harder at “someone else with motive, a person mentioned quite a bit” during the hearing.
The woman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Both Giandoni’s family and Patel’s family attended the hearing in large numbers, and members of both groups cried throughout. Jenna Giandoni broke down on the stand while describing how she found her brother the day after he was killed. He was “chatty,” she said, and she and her other brother, Will, had become concerned that Friday because they hadn’t heard from him. She asked a friend to check on her brother, and the friend reported that his door was jammed and the frame askew.
“We would all try to get him to lock his doors,” she testified, but he never did.
She and Will arrived and were able to get in by breaking a window. After climbing inside, she testified, she saw her brother on the ground with blood pooled around his head. It was dry, she said, and she knew they were too late, but still she checked his pulse.
“Of course, there was no pulse,” she said, through tears.
Tara Crider, one of the first police officers at the scene, testified that in addition to gunshot and stab wounds, there was a zip tie around Giandoni’s mouth to cut off his breathing.
Zip ties were found in Patel’s home, but they did not match the one at the scene, she testified.
The case will now move to a grand jury.