In an intense conclusion Friday to the murder-and-arson case of former Palo Alto hookah lounge owner Bulos "Paul" Zumot, who was convicted in February, Judge David Cena sent Zumot from the courtroom prior to sentencing after a disturbed Zumot accused the judge of corruption and repeatedly proclaimed his own innocence.
Cena eventually sentenced Zumot 25 years to life for the murder of his girlfriend, Palo Alto real-estate agent Jennifer Schipsi, plus 8 years for aggravated arson, stemming from the Oct. 15, 2009, fire at the Addison Avenue cottage the couple shared. Schipsi's body was found inside the cottage. Zumot will serve the sentences consecutively.
The sentencing in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose began with more than a half-hour delay when attorneys met with Cena in the judge's chambers. The attorneys discussed, it was revealed to the packed courtroom, that Zumot had fired his attorney, celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, and his team.
Defense attorney Tina Glandian asked the court to postpone Zumot's sentencing until he could be appointed a public defender. She said Geragos' team had prepared a motion for a new trial. But Zumot had instructed them through his family not to file the documents and had fired his attorneys. She said she was not prepared for sentencing.
Cena pointed out it had been 8 months since Zumot's conviction. He called it "a vague assertion" that Zumot now wanted to hire an attorney. Neither Zumot nor his attorneys had asked permission from the court to relieve Geragos, as is required, Cena said.
Zumot told the judge that he had fired Geragos because the attorney did not call any witnesses who could speak to his innocence or file any documents to show that he did not commit the crimes.
But Cena said Zumot had ample time to find another attorney to be in court, since Zumot said he had fired Geragos a month ago.
"It sounds like it is being done at this stage to delay the sentence," Cena said, adding even having a new attorney present would not alter sentencing.
"Miss Glandian has not been relieved and has an obligation to represent you. The motion to continue the sentencing is denied," Cena said.
"Hold on, hold on, hold on. I'm innocent!" Zumot hollered.
"You've been for the DA (district attorney) since day one," Zumot accused the judge.
"You were convicted by a jury …" Cena started to say, over Zumot's proclamations of innocence.
"I don't agree with this. I don't want to be here. I don't want to hear this. Take me away from here," Zumot shouted, as Glandian tried to calm him down.
"You are corrupt," he yelled at Cena.
"You framed me," he said, turning to Deputy District Attorney Chuck Gillingham. "The DA is a liar. The Palo Alto police are liars."
"I'm an innocent man! I'm innocent!" he shouted.
Jim Schipsi, Jennifer's father, stood to make his victim's family's statement, hands trembling slightly as he read from a note pad. He thanked the court and the police and prosecutor for obtaining justice for his daughter. But he had harsh words for Zumot and his court behavior.
"I believe it's quite apparent the kind of a monster we're dealing with here," he said.
"You are the monster," Zumot shouted. "I am an innocent man!"
Three bailiffs circled around Zumot, who turned in his chair as he shouted but did not rise.
"Our Jennifer Marie was sweet and loving. ... She was a beautiful flower," Schipsi continued, as Zumot shouted over him.
Schipsi raised his voice, trying to be heard over Zumot's continued protestations.
"One day she made a terrible mistake. She met you," he said, as Schipsi's mother and family friends and relatives wept loudly.
Cena stopped the proceedings and instructed that Zumot should be removed from the courtroom. His hands still shackled to his waist, Zumot was confined to a prisoner holding room where he would hear the court proceedings through an audio feed.
Jim Schipsi apologized to the court for becoming emotional. He said he had lost his composure because of "the thoughts going through my mind and what I wish I could do to you," he said, addressing Zumot.
"Our Jennifer was a sweet, kind, loving woman," he continued.
At that, Zumot's aged mother started to stand and shouted something inaudible.
An angry bailiff ordered her out of the courtroom, pointing to the door.
Two bailiffs approached the row where she was seated, waiting. Zumot's mother rose and left, followed by two of Zumot's relatives.
Jim Schipsi said he had never met Zumot before his daughter was killed. Over time Zumot had taken her away from her friends and family, he said.
"The pain that he has caused has no description. It has no reason. It has no end," he said. "I can only wish and dream to be the one to administer the punishment."
Dee Towner, Jennifer Schipsi's aunt, told the court her family has been devastated.
"I often wonder what went through Jenny's mind as you gripped her neck so tightly," she said to Zumot, weeping.
Perhaps Jennifer thought he would not kill her but just hurt her as he had so many times before, she said. And she imagined the great fear and pain Jennifer would have felt, realizing she was going to die.
"That image will haunt me and my family for the rest of our lives."
During the trial Zumot had invariably thumped his chest in triumph and snickered at her family, she said. "There were no tears, no sadness," from Zumot or his family, she said. "There was never a word of sympathy."
Zumot's brother asked to address the court, but Zumot sent a message through his attorney that he did not want his brother to speak. Zumot refused to return to the courtroom to hear his sentence.
Cena said he was imposing the sentences to be served consecutively in light of the planning and sophistication involved in the crime.
"The (gas) burner was left on with a foil cone to blow up the room," he said, referring to the arson of the Addison Avenue cottage.
In addition to the state prison time, if and when he is released, Zumot would be on parole a minimum of seven years to life. He must also pay several fines, including $10,000 to a state victims' restitution fund and $135,982 to his former landlord, John Eckland, for burning down his cottage.
After the hearing Gillingham recalled a taped conversation during which Schipsi had described how she had been lured by Zumot's attention.
"He made her feel like she was terribly special. Then it would deteriorate from there. What's unfortunate about that phone call is that it was truly Domestic Violence 101. Unfortunately, it's something we see over and over again. There's just no explaining it.
"If someone tells you they are going to kill you or hurt you, you really have to take that 100 percent seriously. You shouldn't die for loving somebody," he said.
In February, 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.
Outside the courtroom Towner recalled Zumot's testimony.
"He once testified he never gets angry, he just gets upset," she said. Asked about his level of upset at Schipsi on a scale of 1 to 11, he said it was an 11, she recalled.
"I think we saw an example of an 11 today," she said.
After the hearing, Jim Schipsi quietly reflected on the two years since Jennifer was murdered.
"The pain will never go away. It just never goes away," he said.
There are nights when he wakes up remembering the moment when he first learned about her death, he said. "The feeling of that horror, those feelings come back."
Schipsi said he has a son and daughter and a grandchild on the way, and he "looks forward to more thoughts and good memories."
"Hopefully this case in some way can bring awareness to some person, to some woman, and hopefully she will break away from some monster, because they are still out there. Maybe this case, someone will see it and it will change their destiny," he said.