Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 14, 2011

Intense text messages dominate Zumot trial

Cell-phone records reveal turbulent relationship between Bulos Zumot and his slain girlfriend, Jennifer Schipsi

by Gennady Sheyner

During their turbulent two-year relationship, Bulos Zumot and Jennifer Schipsi exchanged hundreds of text messages, including ones containing threats, insults and lengthy diatribes.

This week, the jury in Zumot's arson-and-murder trial saw a large sample of the messages, including ones the couple exchanged on Oct. 15, 2009, the day a Palo Alto firefighter discovered Schipsi's body in the Addison Avenue cottage the two shared.

The messages dominated the second week of Zumot's trial. These included the hysterical, insulting messages Schipsi sent Zumot as she was walking home alone from Zumot's birthday party the night before the fire.

They also included a message Zumot sent Schipsi about a week before her death, telling her he had just missed several calls from the San Jose Police Department — calls that phone records show were actually made by Schipsi, pretending to be the police.

Prosecution and defense attorneys also sparred this week over which text messages should be shown to the jury. Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Charles Gillingham requested Tuesday morning that about 20 messages found on Zumot's phone be excised from evidence. These include ones Zumot exchanged with Schipsi's mother, Jamie Schipsi, and with his friend, Joseph Martinez, a deputy sheriff at Monterey County Sheriff's Office.

The messages between Zumot and Jamie Schipsi were exchanged on Oct. 14 — Zumot's 36th birthday. She wished him a happy birthday, told him to "smile all day" and signed off as "mom." Zumot wrote in his response that Jennifer had made it his best birthday ever and told Jamie Schipsi of plans to propose to Jennifer the following weekend.

Gillingham requested that about 20 messages be excised as "hearsay" — which means they cannot be introduced into evidence unless Zumot testifies in his own defense.

But Zumot's attorney, Mark Geragos, said he was previously led to believe that all messages would be admitted into evidence and criticized what he called the "dilatory tactics" of the prosecution. He argued that showing only certain messages will give the jury a "skewed view of what has transpired.

"Surely, the jury should have all the messages, rather than the cherry-picked ones," Geragos told Judge David Cena.

Cena ultimately sided with the prosecution.

Geragos also went on the offensive Monday afternoon, when Jaber Al Suwaidi, a friend of the couple, testified that he detected Zumot's writing style in a message he received from Schipsi's phone on the afternoon of the fire. Mark Geragos heatedly disputed Al Suwaidi's professed ability to recognize the authors by the grammar in the texts, at one point derisively referring to Al Suwaidi's "magical powers."

The disputed message stated that Zumot wasn't mad at Al Suwaidi for missing his birthday the previous night (he was "just drunk"). Al Suwaidi immediately suspected it was Zumot, not Schipsi, who wrote it.

"It's not her writing," Al Suwaidi testified.

He said Schipsi's messages tend to be less formal than Zumot's and that she frequently uses popular abbreviations such as "LOL" (for "laughing out loud").

Al Suwaidi acknowledged that the person sending the Oct. 15 message from Schipsi's phone could have been anyone but said that in his opinion it was Zumot.

"If you have them as friends, you know," Al Suwaidi said.

Al Suwaidi also testified that Schipsi called him on the night of Oct. 14, 2009. Schipsi was breathing heavily and crying as she walked home alone from the Zumot's downtown business, Da Hookah Spot. She also told Al Suwaidi that Zumot had "humiliated her" so she left.

"She said she's done and that she can't handle it anymore," Al Suwaidi testified.

The jury saw dozens of other text messages on Tuesday and Wednesday, when Palo Alto Sgt. Cornelius Maloney painstakingly read out the texts that Zumot and Schipsi had exchanged in the days leading up to Schipsi's death. These included one on Oct. 14 in which Schipsi, walking home from Da Hookah Spot, wrote to Zumot, "Stay the f--- away so I can regain my happiness and satisfaction."

The messages portray Schipsi becoming increasingly furious at Zumot.

A little after 1 a.m., she sent him a series of messages demanding that he pay her money that she said he owed her for damaging her car and other belongings. She also told him not ever to threaten her again or she "will seek ultimate justice."

She also wrote that she would go to the police if he didn't pay her back by 11 a.m. the following day.

This jury also learned Wednesday about the five "spoof calls" that Schipsi allegedly made to Zumot on Oct. 8, in which she masked her phone number and made it seem like the calls were coming from the Palo Alto and San Jose police departments.

The trial will be in recess the week of Jan. 17 and will resume on Jan. 24.

Editor's note: Follow the trial on Twitter. Go to twitter.com/#!/paw_court.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Hmm, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Why would anyone spoof call someone pretending to be the police? Shouldn't that software be illegal? How's anyone going to know who is calling him or her anymore? I would think someone would want to spy on their partner or spouse, but to pretend to be police department...hmm


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I have a better question: Why would a man who claims to love his partner so much that he's allegedly going to propose very soon, allow her to walk home late at night, while under the influence of alcohol? That's just not safe. Of course, if her safety was so important to him, he wouldn't be taking court-ordered classes based on his domestic violence issues.


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