News


GUILTY: Palo Alto man convicted of murder

Jury finds Bulos 'Paul' Zumot, 37, guilty of 2009 murder in the first degree of Jennifer Schipsi, 29

Bulos "Paul" Zumot, 37, the Palo Alto hookah lounge owner who was charged with the Oct. 15, 2009, murder of his girlfriend, real-estate agent Jennifer Schipsi, was found guilty Thursday afternoon in a San Jose courtroom.

Zumot was also found guilty of arson, stemming from the Oct. 15 fire at the Addison Avenue cottage the couple shared. Schipsi's body was found inside the cottage.

The four-man and eight-woman jury took less than 14 hours to return the verdict following a trial that began Jan. 3 and included three days of testimony from Zumot in his own defense.

Minutes after the verdict was read, the victim's father, Jim Schipsi, thanked the Palo Alto police detectives who investigated the case and the prosecuting attorneys.

"At last, the person responsible will pay for his crime," he said.

"Now I can go on living my life with my two children, doing what Jennifer wanted, which was for us to be happy," he said.

When he heard the verdict, he said, it released the tensions and the emotions the family's had since day one.

Jennifer Schipsi's grandmother, Peggy Schipsi, said the outcome was never in doubt in her mind. Nonetheless, she said she prayed a little longer than usual Wednesday night.

It felt wonderful to hear the verdict, she said: "Sad but wonderful. Justice has been done."

Members of Zumot's family declined to speak to reporters, but defense attorney Mark Geragos pledged outside the courtroom that he and his client would not accept the guilty verdict.

"It's a difficult time. The client is bewildered and so am I, but the jury was diligent. We'll be filing a motion for a new trial, and if that doesn't work, we'll appeal," Geragos said.

The prosecution, led by Deputy District Attorney Charles Gillingham, painted a picture of a man who had a history of domestic abuse against his girlfriend and killed her following an argument on his birthday.

"This is no longer a whodunit -- it never was," Gillingham said early in his closing argument on Tuesday, before going on to summarize the evidence from cell phones, witnesses and surveillance videos that the jury saw.

Gillingham said Zumot, former owner of the Da Hookah Spot in downtown Palo Alto, was the only person who had the motive, the opportunity and the desire to kill Schipsi, 29. He pointed to their two-year history of domestic disputes -- disputes that led both Zumot and Schipsi to file police complaints against one another. He also emphasized the long strings of insulting text messages Schipsi sent Zumot early in the morning of Oct. 15 -- messages in which she threatened to go to the police if he didn't pay her the money she claimed he owed her.

Gillingham argued that Zumot strangled Schipsi that day and later dowsed the house with gasoline and turned on the burner on the stove in hopes of causing an explosion that would hide his crime. There were no signs of a forced entry into the home nor of a burglary, Gillingham said, and no one disputed the coroner's finding that Schipsi was murdered before the fire occurred.

Gillingham told the jury that Zumot was with Schipsi all day and had "absolutely no alibi" for Oct. 15. No one who could vouch that they saw Zumot until that evening, he said.

During his closing arguments, Geragos had dismissed the prosecution's evidence as "a lot of nonsense" that the prosecution put in front of the jury "in the guise of evidence." Geragos, whose previous clients included Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson, argued that Palo Alto police, rather than investigating who committed the murder, decided on the day of the fire that Zumot was the killer and focused its resources on building a case against him.

"They had a theory, and they weren't going to be bothered with the evidence," Geragos said.

He told the jury that the prosecution's theory about Zumot taking Schipsi's phone and traveling with both phones on the day of the fire didn't stand up to evidence. He also derided the testimony of Jim Cook, the prosecution's cell-phone expert who used data from AT&T cell-phone towers to map out the locations of Zumot's and Schipsi's iPhones on the day of Oct. 15, 2009.

During his cross-examination of Cook, Geragos showed numerous instances in which the records seemed to suggest that a person could be using a tower in Hawaii and California within minutes of each other and argued that the phone company "merged" the data, making it impossible to figure out who is making the call and who is receiving it. Gillingham later countered in his rebuttal that in most cases, the phone calls Cook mapped were corroborated by other phone records, as well as videos and witness testimony.

Geragos also pointed to a lab report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which examined Zumot's clothing and did not find any evidence of accelerant on his sweatshirt, pants or socks. This finding contrasted with that of Rosie, an accelerant-sniffing dog used by arson investigators after the fire.

Geragos recalled testimony from a Palo Alto police officer who testified that Zumot did not have any scratch marks or bruises on Oct. 15, 2009. The fact that there "wasn't a single mark" on Zumot suggests that he did not get into a fight with Schipsi that day, Geragos argued.

He also criticized Palo Alto police for not investigating Hisham Ghanma, a person against whom Schipsi and Zumot had both filed a restraining order shortly before the fire, and for not following up on a statement made by Zumot's landlord, John Eckland, who testified that he saw a dirty white sedan parked close to the house on the day of the fire.

"They didn't show you any evidence linking Bulos to the crime," Geragos told the jury.

The prosecution, Geragos maintained, focused much of its case on "character assassination." He said that the long and heated string of messages exchanged between Zumot and Schipsi on the day of the fire consisted of insults and threats that she was sending him -- not the other way around. The only major actions Zumot had taken against Schipsi over their relationships occurred in 2008, when he kicked her car and spat at her. She filed a police report, and Zumot pleaded guilty to sending her harassing text messages. He was put on probation and forced to take domestic-violence classes in San Jose.

"This guy has learned over a year ago that he couldn't do those kinds of things," Geragos said, pointing at Zumot.

During Zumot's time on the witness stand, he acknowledged under cross-examination Monday that he deleted many of the text messages from Schipsi while he was at his domestic-violence class on Oct. 15, 2009. The class began at 4 p.m. and concluded less than an hour before the fire was reported.

Zumot offered several explanations for why he deleted those texts. He first said he wanted to get rid of "negative" messages in his phone. When Gillingham pointed to seemingly innocuous messages and asked Zumot why he deleted those, he said he deleted them because they meant nothing. Minutes later, Zumot said he "just randomly picked which I delete."

Zumot testified that he and Schipsi had completely reconciled on Oct. 15 and "everything was fine." He said he became extremely concerned about Schipsi when he learned the house was on fire. But Gillingham pointed to phone records showing that when Zumot arrived at the scene of the fire, he made dozens of phone calls over a two-hour stretch, but only two to Schipsi.

He also didn't send her any text messages that evening -- behavior that Gillingham argued was unusual for a man who on a typical day would exchange dozens if not hundreds of texts. During his closing argument to the jury, Gillingham recalled Zumot's lack of texts to Schipsi on the evening of the fire.

"His silence is damning. His silence is deafening," Gillingham told the jury during closing arguments. "His silence yells louder than anything he could've said at the witness stand: 'I murdered Jennifer.'"

Roy Endemann, Schipsi's best friend, cried outside of the courtroom after the verdict.

"I'm glad he's guilty, but it's sad for me to close this chapter in my life," he said. "It definitely makes things better for me, but it's very hard to hear from the jury, the judge, that your best friend had been killed."

Comments

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

YES! I couldn't tell if the prosecution had delivered a convincing case, so I am glad to read this. I know there is never truly "closure" after the murder of a loved one. I do hope that Schipsi's loved ones find some measure of comfort, justice in this verdict. I'm sorry for those who care for him and I'm sorry he chose this horrendous course of action.


Posted by bru, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm

bru is a registered user.

I have to admit that the way I have seen our system of justice work lately, I was troubled that this case would not get a better resolution. I believe the correct verdict was reached here from everything I read while I followed the case. No one wins here, two lives are ruined because of a stupid power game being played by two people who did not belong together and could not give it up and go their separate ways.

It's even worse that this man thought he could get away with it and played every pathetic card to mislead and manipuate the court. Thankfully he did not.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Good points, bru. I think it's a relief that he was convicted but still sad that so many people are effected, incl those who believed in him. No doubt there will be an appeals process. I can only imagine the $$ his supporters have spent on yet another case Geragos lost.

Also, good point that they shouldn't have been together but couldn't have just thrown in the towel and gone their separate ways. What a terrible waste.


Posted by watcher, a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm

watcher is a registered user.

The system works. The misdirection and slurring of the murder victim's name by the defendant, his attorney and his backers is over.

Just is served!


Posted by lunchlady, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm

lunchlady is a registered user.

Not surprised by the verdict, despite the defense using every strategy they could think of to discredit the evidence. Even the accelerant-sniffing dog was castigated. The usual badmouthing of the victim- our justice system encourages this but it sure isn't pretty to watch.

Too bad the victim and the convicted man didn't give up on their relationship before this happened. All that drama finally ended very badly.


Posted by Ronamir, a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Ronamir is a registered user.

As a person who crossed paths with Paul some 12 years ago, my first impression of him was bad, and it only got worse! I'm glad to see justice served! My heart goes out to the Schipsi family!


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Ronamir, can you elaborate? I am curious about his past & the allegations that he'd gotten into legal trouble some years before.


Posted by Ronamir, a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Ronamir is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I wonder, neurologically, what goes on in the brains of people who get obsessive about others. Years ago I was harassed by a guy & ended up having to get the police involved. Turns out, he'd had a head injury. I have a friend whose boyfriend turned violent after a head injury. But for those who haven't had head injuries and show signs of stalking, controlling, violent behavior, I do wonder what's going on in their brains. So much of what they do is done on the sly, and they often appear both embarrassed and angry when confronted. Instead of being able to re-set themselves emotionally, it's like they can't focus on controlling themselves but want to control others. They often end up w/others who play right into their hands & that can be explosive.


Posted by rixcritix, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 10, 2011 at 5:27 pm

rixcritix is a registered user.

My thanks to Palo Alto Online for being the single-most and up-to-date source of this trial. I looked in many other news sources and found Palo Alto Online to be the most fulfilling. Since this arson/murder was committed, I was anxious to find current news about this, and Palo Alto Online provided me with what I was looking for. I thought that Paul Zumot was guilty from early on in this case, and I'm glad to see that justice has been served up.


Posted by Ronamir, a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Ronamir is a registered user.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

All my knowlege of him is a bit dated. The last time I saw him was in 05. As soon as this story broke, unfortunately, I wasn't surpised! Just sad that someone lost thier life at the hands of awful human being!


Posted by Ladrome, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 8:07 am

Ladrome is a registered user.

It is SO wonderful and reaffirming to see justice actually carried out! The world is not always fair when you can hire morally dubious attorneys to cloud the waters and try to put blame elsewhere. I am sick of seeing Zumot's family members and friends writing lies on this forum. But now the verdict was swift and the obvious guilty party will pay. Much love to the Schipsi family. Now they can move on like her dad said... and try to be happy once again, as their daughter would've desired.

Now Zumont won't be able to do this to anyone else. A violent hothead like Zumont needs to be put away so he can't harm society. Rest in Peace, Jennifer. Your murderer has been brought to justice. I hope never to hear the name Gerragos again either. For me, he was another villain in the case.


Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2011 at 9:35 am

Paly Alum is a registered user.

"We'll be filing a motion for a new trial, and if that doesn't work, we'll appeal," Geragos said.

They always make this statement so they don't admit defeat.

I am supportive of the verdict but what I dont understand (no, I don't watch law shows) is that it was mostly cirmcumstantial evidence, no? How did they argue the dog sniff vs. the lab report?



Posted by Koa, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:19 am

Koa is a registered user.

I wonder why the prosecutor didn't seek the death penalty for such a heinous crime?


Posted by Domanica, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

Domanica is a registered user.

Justice was not served, our justice system is severely flawed!


Posted by Hulkamania, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Hulkamania is a registered user.

We'll be filing a motion for a new trial, and if that doesn't work, we'll appeal," Geragos said.

Geragos will defend Zumot to his, and his family's, last dime.


Posted by Ladrome, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Ladrome is a registered user.

Thanks kongjie and Hylkamania, we need some humor now that this is all over.

Let them spend all their money on appeals. I should think nobody would want to be affiliated with Geragos anymore.



Posted by Domanica, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Domanica is a registered user.

Right now you all and the real killer, who is free and roaming the streets are the ones laughing. You are laughing because you think justice was served, it wasn't ! [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Justice for Jenny, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Justice for Jenny is a registered user.

Justice was served!
Mark Geragos said: "My client and I do not accept this verdict!". I've got some news for you, Mr. Geragos, regardless of whether, or not, you accept the verdict, Zumot will spend the rest of his [portion removed by Palo Alto Online] life, in prison, where he belongs.
And to those who dragged Jenny's name through the mud, (one of which has commented on this article, have you no shame?
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Rest in peace, my sweet, sweet Jennifer.


Posted by watcher, a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm

watcher is a registered user.

Stick that in your Hookah and smoke it!


Posted by watcher, a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 11, 2011 at 8:20 pm

watcher is a registered user.

April 21 will be the sentencing date for Zumot, who faces a prison term of 33 years to life.


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