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I-Team: Hazleton man to face murder charges for December death of store clerk

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HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — A dramatic testimony took place on Wednesday inside a district courtroom in Luzerne County for a man accused of killing a store clerk in December.

50-year-old Ashokkumar Patel was shot to death during a robbery at Craig’s Food Mart in Hazleton on December 12. Patel was a clerk at the store and investigators say robbery was the motive for the shooting.

Inside the courtroom, prosecutors called witnesses that placed Jafet Rodriguez at the store that night. They say he shot and killed Patel. Prosecutors played in store security video that showed the murder.

Investigators showed security video that shows a suspect, wearing an orange hoodie and mask, walk into Craig’s Food Mart on the night of December 12th.

The suspect, who they say is Rodriguez, points a gun at Patel who was mopping the floor. He pushed him into a utility closet and then shot him. The suspect then runs behind the register counter and takes a bank bag with cash and runs out the front door.

The video shows Mr. Patel crawling out of the closet, bleeding and calling 911. He died a short time later.

In a strange twist to the story, as police were looking for a suspect several days after the murder, a Hazleton police officer and Rodriguez met up at the Hazleton Post office. Rodriguez actually held the door open for the officer. The officer saw Rodriguez’s vehicle that matched the vehicle at the murder scene. That encounter put Rodriguez in the radar of investigators.

Investigators say they were able to track down Rodriguez as part of a drug investigation. They obtained video from Rodriguez’s home. The video shows a man they say is Rodriguez leaving his home, on the night of the murder, wearing the same clothing and matching the description of the suspect who killed Patel.

The alleged vehicle seen at Craig’s Food Mart was being driven by Rodriguez. They also presented evidence regarding an orange hoodie like the one worn by the suspect inside a car detailing business that’s owned by Rodriguez.

Investigators say DNA testing found Mr. Patel’s blood on that orange hoodie. Rodriguez’s Defense attorney says the evidence does not prove that Rodriguez was at the murder scene or even wearing the orange hoodie.

The judge ruled there was enough evidence to send Rodriguez to trial in Luzerne County Court.

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