Suspect arrested in Hazleton homicide

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HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Investigators in Luzerne County identify the suspect accused of the brutal killing of a convenience store clerk.

Jafet Rodriguez is charged with homicide. District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis made the announcement during press conference at Hazleton City Hall.

At the press conference Tuesday, D.A. Salavantis said Ashokkumar Patel did not have time to resist or call for help before he was shot and left for dead. She said this is not a case of a robbery gone bad, Rodriguez murdered Patel in cold blood.

“In all of my years as District Attorney, the murder of Mr. Patel struck a chord with myself, my staff, the police and the community like few others have,” Salavantis said.

Investigators say Rodriguez is the masked gunman who robbed Craig’s Food Mart on December 12th, and murdered 50-year-old Ashokkumar Patel.

Salavantis said Patel was finishing up his shift as a clerk when the gunman entered the store “armed and ready”, shoved him into a closet, and shot him in the head and neck.

“He crawled from the closet to the counter, smearing blood on the floor along the way. He found his cellphone and dialed 911 for help,” Salavantis said.

Patel died before he could tell operators where he was. The gunman ran off with more than $14,000.

Investigators pieced together the case using video surveillance and data from Rodriguez’s cellphone. Friday, they searched an address belonging to Rodriguez and found clothes in a trash bag identical to what the gunman was seen wearing in surveillance footage

Salavantis said Rodriguez would frequent the store to play the video poker machines.

“Given the steps he took to conceal his identity, Rodriguez walked into the store intending not to leave a witness behind,” Salavantis said.

A co-worker tells Eyewitness News Patel worked to support his family in India, sending all his earnings to his disabled wife and two kids.

“His son is in his first year of college and his family is very poor. He lived in a very small town in India.” co-worker Maulik Patel

Maulik Patel says Ashokkumar was a “good guy.” He and the owners of the store are collecting donations for his family.

Patel had only worked at the store for two weeks before he was killed. Maulik tells Eyewitness News he hopes the government will grant visas to Ashokkumar’s family so they can make arrangements. He will collect donations at the store when they reopen on January 21st.

There are also three phone numbers to call about making donations. You can call Maulik Patel at 551-88-6268, Jerry Patel at 570-380-3619, or Govid Patel at 201-464-6862.

Rodriguez has been locked up at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility without bail since December 19th when he was arrested for felony drug charges in a separate investigation.

He will be arraigned Wednesday morning on charges of criminal homicide, robbery, burglary and theft.

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