Motel Owner Found Guilty

Times Staff Writer

Jurors on Monday convicted a Studio City motel owner of strangling and burning a business rival and her three relatives in 2002 during a bitter dispute over an alley that separated their properties.

Pravin "Peter" Govin, 35, who could now face the death penalty, was impassive as a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found him guilty of killing Gita Kumar, 42; her son, Paras Kumar, 18; her daughter, Tulsi Kumar, 16; and her mother-in-law, Sitaben Patel, 63. It was the second time he has been tried in the case; the first trial ended in a hung jury.

The family members were strangled with plastic garbage bag ties, beaten and burned when Govin, his brother and a business partner set Kumar's Hollywood Hills home ablaze May 4, 2002. Virendra "Victor" Govin, 37, was convicted last year; Carlos Amador, 28, pleaded guilty and is in prison.

As the verdicts were read, there was a gasp from the visitors' section, where nearly 30 friends and family of the victims filled the first two rows. "That guy's such a coldhearted, evil person," said Sagar Kumar, 22, a nephew of Gita Kumar. "I don't think this will ever make sense to us."

Jurors deliberated more than two weeks before finding Govin guilty of four counts of capital murder, as well as special circumstance allegations, including committing murder for financial gain. The penalty phase of the trial is scheduled to begin Thursday.

Virendra Govin has been sentenced to death. Although the brothers were tried at the same time, jurors deadlocked on a verdict for Pravin Govin, prompting a retrial.

Kumar and the Govin brothers owned adjacent motels in the 10700 block of Ventura Boulevard. Both families claimed rights to use the alley separating the two properties. The Govins wanted to expand their business, the Studio Place Inn. Kumar, who co-owned the Universal City Inn with her husband, Harish Patel, wanted to use the alley as a driveway.

As in the first trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Eleanor Hunter contended the Govins killed Gita Kumar because she would not agree to let them build on the alley.

The prosecutor's case rested largely on the testimony of Amador, who said he saw the Govins rob the victims' home, gag and blindfold them with duct tape and beat them before strangling them by tightening plastic "zip ties" around their necks.

Amador was charged with the Govin brothers, but later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a deal made with the district attorney's office. He is serving four concurrent terms of 15 years to life.

Amador told police that he and the brothers met at a restaurant in North Hollywood before driving to the Kumar home, court documents show. Amador also described the scene as the older Govin started pulling the zip ties around the victims' necks.

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

Paras Kumar broke free of his restraints and said, "Don't hurt my mother," before the Govin brothers subdued and bound him again, court papers show.

Defense attorney John Sweeney contended there was scant evidence to place Pravin Govin at the crime scene and attacked Amador's credibility. Sweeney could not be reached for comment Monday.

After the verdict, the victims' relatives embraced Hunter, who declined to comment on the trial because of the upcoming penalty phase.

"The second time was easier" on his family, said Sagar Kumar, who praised the Los Angeles Police Department and the district attorney's office. "The evidence was overwhelming."

Times staff writer Monte Morin contributed to this report.

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