Bond denied for husband accused of double murder

Bond was denied for Hiralkumar Gopaldas, who police say killed his wife and her mother. / Tonya Brown (6/29/2011)

Hiralkumar Gopaldas, 33, pleaded not guilty Thursday morning to two counts of murder during a bond hearing at the Florence County City-Complex.

The courtroom was filled with friends and relatives of the victims and the suspect.

Gopaldas supporters wore t-shirts declaring his innocence. The victims' relatives and friends wore purple ribbons symbolizing domestic violence.

On June 25th, investigators say Gopaldas killed his wife, Punam Gopaldas, 31, and her mother Vinaben Patel, 57, at Punam's home in the Country Club of South Carolina in Florence County.

"Punam Gopaldas was stabbed 27 times a very personal attack. Her mother was stabbed five times," said Solicitor Ed Clements.

Deputies with the Florence County Sheriff's Office say they found the couple's 2-year-old son lying next to his mother's body.

Solicitor Clements says a witness saw Gopaldas at the crime scene around the time of the killings and saw him drive away rather fast.

Clements said, "Had his car leaving the house at a high rate of speed as well as coming at a high rate of speed."

Gopaldas's attorney, Rose Mary Parham, says her client admitted to being there because he had to drop off his child. She says Gopaldas's parents were with him.

"Hiral's arrangement with his estranged wife was that every other Saturday he would drop his 2-year-old son off at her house at 3 p.m., like clock work. That happened every other Saturday and on the other Saturdays she would drop her 2-year-old son at the hotel," said Parham.

She says Gopaldas is a certified public accountant, but also works at his family's hotel in Florence.

Parham told the court her client was at work at the time of the killings.

Parham said, "His parents came and picked him up at a quarter 'til three with the child in the car and they drove to the Country Club Of South Carolina which is a healthy, 15 minute drive from the hotel and they dropped the 2-year-old son off. And as soon as they dropped Jay off, they pulled out of the driveway, they took {Gopaldas} back to the hotel and he was checking in customers at the hotel by 3:18 that afternoon. They seized the hotel computers, they have the logs, they have the time charts. {Gopaldas} was at the hotel checking in customers from 3:18 til 4 o'clock. And then, he was at the Quinby Bar and Grill working with one of his CPA clients from 4 o'clock in the afternoon until 5 o'clock in the afternoon."

Deputies say they estimate the time of death between 3 p.m. And 4 p.m.

Parham says the same witness who saw Gopaldas at the scene also saw him leaving and his wife very much alive.

"When she saw him pull out of the driveway she saw the victim alive at the top of the steps walking into the front door with the 2-year-old," said Parham.

Parham told the judge there is no one that puts Gopaldas back at the crime scene.

Clements says he isn't going to try this case during a bond hearing.

"The bond hearing is not a hearing on the merits, not a hearing on on someone's guilt or innocence," said Clements.

Investigators say Gopaldas' marriage was arranged and they were in the middle of a divorce and custody battle for their son. Solicitor Clements told the judge he believes Gopaldas wanted full custody of his son and that's why he killed his wife.

"What brings us here today why all this has happened was a custody battle for their 27-month-old son, " said Clements.

Several of Gopaldas' family and friends testified in court about his character saying he was content with his divorce and joint custody arrangement of his son.

"He told me he had accepted the fact that he was gonna have a divorce. That was it, and that he got joint custody and that his lawyer had done everything and achieved everything that he could possibly ask her to do," said Rob Jordan , Gopaldas's co-worker.

"I've often gone to him to make judgement calls when we were undecided about things. I just think he's wonderful, " said Debra Grant, another of Gopaldas's co-workers.

Punam's divorce attorney, Cheryl Turner Hopkins, says Punam was afraid of her estranged husband.

"She was in constant fear, constant. He tried to run over her with the van when she was pregnant," said Hopkins.

Solicitor Clements says Gopaldas is a flight risk. He say he has ties to India, Africa, and the United Kingdom. He told the judge Gopaldas's family has servants and body guards at their compound and furniture business in Malawi, Africa and the financial wherewithal to abscond bond.