New attorney seeks bail for Bulos Zumot
Mark Geragos asks court to revisit bail issue, compel prosecution to hand over computer evidence
The defense for Bulos Zumot, the Palo Alto hookah-shop owner charged with killing his girlfriend, Jennifer Schipsi, and setting their shared Addison Avenue cottage on fire last October, is once again asking the court to set bail for Zumot.
Mark Geragos, the Los Angeles-based criminal-defense lawyer whose previous clients included Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson, made his first court appearance as Zumot's attorney at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice Wednesday.
In a brief hearing packed with Schipsi's family and friends, Geragos asked Judge Philip Pennypacker to compel the prosecution to hand over key computer drives in a more timely fashion.
Geragos also filed two motions, one of which seeks the release of Zumot's two sports-utility vehicles, which police had seized over the course of their investigation. The motion claims that this particular evidence is "neither relevant or necessary."
Geragos also asked the court to grant Zumot bail, a request the court had previously considered and rejected on two occasions. The motion he filed states that the "defense feels it is only fair that if the preliminary hearing is going to be continued once again, the defendant should have at least the opportunity to post bail."
Pennypacker didn't rule on Geragos' requests and continued the hearing until Friday morning, at which time Judge David Cena is expected to take over the case and consider the defense's requests.
Geragos took over for Zumot's previous defense attorney, Cameron Bowman, shortly after a Santa Clara County court judge denied Bowman's second request to set bail for his client in February. Geragos said he decided to become involved in the case because he found the case "intriguing."
"What's intriguing about it is that I don't think he did it," Geragos told the Weekly after the Wednesday hearing.
Most of the hearing focused on the defense's effort to obtain computer evidence from the prosecution. Geragos said he needs to see both the suspect's and the victim's computers to establish the timeline of the case -- a critical component of a case rooted in circumstantial evidence. Geragos said he was previously told by the prosecution that he would receive the computers last Monday.
Geragos told Pennypacker he needs some kind of a court order compelling the prosecution to hand over the evidence in a timely fashion.
Prosecutor Chuck Gillingham said the defense had only asked for only one computer, which would have been provided by Monday had the defense not expanded its request. Because the list now includes four computers and two telephones, the timeline had to be extended, he said. Two of the computers are from Zumot's place of business, Da Hookah Spot on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto.
Gillingham also said the timeline of when the evidence is handed over is determined by the forensics laboratory, not the prosecutor's office.
Zumot, 36, was arrested on Oct. 19, 2009, four days after the police found 29-year-old Schipsi's remains in the Addison Avenue cottage where the couple lived. Zumot has been charged with homicide and arson -- charges to which he pleaded not guilty in January. Police said Zumot killed Schipsi and then set the house on fire to destroy the evidence.
He has been held without bail since.
Zumot was the last person to see Schipsi alive, according to the arrest affidavit filed by Palo Alto police. Zumot also allegedly told police the two had argued the night before the fire and the day of the fire. He was arrested after an accelerant-sniffing dog "alerted" after smelling Zumot's shoes, socks, pants and sweatshirts. The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner's office had also determined that Schipsi's hyoid bone was crushed and that she died before the fire.
Zumot and Schipsi had had a turbulent relationship marked with break-ups and episodes of domestic abuse, court records indicate. In February 2008, Schipsi filed a restraining order against Zumot, accusing him of harassing and threatening her -- an order she later asked the court to rescind.
She filed another restraining order against Zumot last August, claiming that he threatened her.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at email@example.com.