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About eight minutes after Palo Alto firefighters received a call about a fire on Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, Bulos "Paul" Zumot walked into the main room of Da Hookah Spot, his smoking lounge on University Avenue, according to a surveillance video a San Jose jury saw Tuesday morning.
The video showed Zumot entering his business at about 6:47 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2009, and then sitting for a few minutes on the sofa just outside the lounge's Ramona Street entrance. He then receives a call and leaves.
Less than a minute before Zumot's first appearance in the video, the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle could be seen streaking down University Avenue.
The surveillance videos were intended to bolster the prosecution's argument that Zumot was not at the lounge when the fire was reported at 6:39 p.m. The prosecution believes Zumot had killed his girlfriend, Jennifer Schipsi, earlier that day and then burned the cottage down to cover up his crime.
But Zumot's attorney, Mark Geragos, countered that the security cameras didn't capture the full story. The Lorex surveillance system at Da Hookah Spot does not show every entrance to the lounge, Geragos said. Zumot could have been in the lounge's private basement room before he walked into the building's ground-floor area and made his first appearance in the video.
When he asked former Palo Alto officer Benjamin Quisenberry whether Zumot came through the front or whether he took the stairs from the basement, Quisenberry said he didn't know.
Quisenberry was one of several Palo Alto officers to testify Tuesday at Zumot's arson and murder trial. Officers Edward Park and DuJuan Green testified Tuesday about their searches of Zumot's and Schipsi's vehicles in the days after the fire. Park, who processed Zumot's silver Range Rover, said he found a cell phone, a rag towel, a can of pepper spray in the vehicle and a key ring from a BMW.
Green, who searched Schipsi's white BMW, said he found a new Apple MacBook laptop computer in the trunk and a bottle of perfume inside the car. He also found a iPhone in a pink case in the car's center console, real-estate documents in a leather satchel and half of a yellow pill.
Other witnesses had testified that Schipsi had bought the MacBook for Zumot the day before the fire and intended to give it to him as a birthday present. But according to numerous witnesses, they got into an argument just after his Oct. 14 birthday dinner, and Schipsi ended up walking home alone from downtown Palo Alto.
Nora Hanafi was with Schipsi and Zumot at Zumot's birthday party, the night before the fire. She recalled going from the DishDash Restraurant in Sunnyvale to Da Hookah Spot in Palo Alto. She then noticed that Schipsi was no longer with the party, and she called Schipsi. After a few attempts, Hanafi got through to her.
Schipsi told Hanafi that she had an argument with Zumot and that Zumot had thrown her phone at her. She was walking home and crying, Hanafi said. When Hanafi offered to pick her up and drive her home, Schipsi refused.
"She told me that she and Paul had an argument because a friend of his and hers texted her to come pick him up, and Paul was angry about that," Hanafi testified.
She said Zumot had frequently sent text messages to Schipsi and described him at one point as "obsessive." Hanafi also told the police in an earlier interview that Schipsi complained in the past about Zumot harassing her with text messages and phone calls. But she testified Tuesday that she did not believe Zumot's communications constituted an "overkill" in her opinion.
Other witnesses also testified Tuesday about the turbulent relationship between Zumot and Schipsi. Millard Hampton, who until recently served as an officer in the San Jose Police Department, recalled meeting Schipsi on March 17, 2008, when she went into the station to report that she was assaulted and that her boyfriend dented her car.
"She was nervous, she was scared and she feared that Zumot would harm her at some point," Hampton said.
While she was at the station, Zumot called her several times, Hampton said. Eventually, Hampton picked up the phone and told him that Schipsi was scared and that he should stay away from her.
"He was emotional," Hampton recalled. "His response was that he cares about her and that he loves her."
He also read out loud a series of text messages Zumot had allegedly sent Schipsi days before she went to see the police.
On March 14, 2008, he allegedly sent her a message at 7:21 a.m. saying, "Good luck fixn ur car. And good luck on finding a rich guy. Hope u have a wonderful day and nice weeken. Haha I dnt owe nothing. U can fix ur own car Iam not responsible. Iam glad that it came down to this so I can move on."
She responded immediately, "Il call police."
She later wrote, "I will avoid any contact with u. Now please stop texting me."
Later that afternoon, he sent her a message, "Ur a cancer and u know it."
Then, an hour later, he wrote, "I have 2 get u out of my life @ any price."
But later that evening, he sent her another message apologizing and telling her he loved her.
"Please just pray 4 me so I can change and 2 a better person. I am sorry," he wrote, according to phone records.
She responded to him on March 16, asking him to leave her alone. The following day, he sent her the message, "I love u. And iam gonna win u back @any price."
Craig Robertson, who lived across the hallway from Schipsi in San Jose, also testified Tuesday that he became worried about Schipsi as he learned about her relationship. Robertson said he became friends with Schipsi in 2007 and 2008, when they were neighbors. He hired her to be his real-estate agent but fired her about a year later because she "wasn't functioning" and wasn't returning his calls.
Robertson said that on about three occasions, Schipsi would visit his apartment and have a glass of wine. On one such occasion, her phone went off more than 100 times, he said. Schipsi told him it was her boyfriend calling, he said. One time, as he was entering his apartment, he heard a slapping sound coming from the hallway. He then saw Zumot and Schipsi walking together. She was holding her face, Robertson said.
Robertson said he advised Schipsi to either get a restraining order against Zumot or to just get away. She told him she was afraid for her life, Robertson said. He talked to her several times about her relationship. Robertson said he had also discussed the subject with another neighbor.
"We thought she was in trouble," Robertson testified.