Zumot murder trial to focus on domestic violence

Fights between Palo Alto hookah shop owner and victim, Jennifer Schipsi, will be admissable as evidence in next month's trial, judge rules

In the weeks and months before firefighters found Jennifer Schipsi's body in a burnt cottage on Addison Avenue, the 29-year-old realtor repeatedly complained to friends, neighbors and police officers about how her boyfriend, Bulos Zumot, had been abusing her, court records show.

One of Schipsi's neighbors allegedly recalled hearing Zumot slapping Schipsi and then saw bruises on her face. Another one claims to have received a "frantic phone call" from Schipsi in early 2009 saying she had to move out of Zumot's house. When he came to pick her up he saw damaged furniture and one of Schipsi's favorite paintings "smashed as it hung on the wall."

Schipsi's best friend, Roy Endemann, said he was with Schipsi once when Zumot called her "hundreds of times" and sent her a text message saying, "You're never going to get away from me."

Zumot, former owner of Da Hookah Spot on University Avenue, was arrested on charges of arson and homicide on Oct. 19, 2009 -- four days after firefighters responded to a fire at the cottage he shared with Schipsi. On Friday (Dec. 10), prosecutor Chuck Gillingham argued in court that the violent episodes Schipsi described to her friends illustrated the "two-year behavior of stalking, control and violence" that characterized the relationship. He and Zumot's defense attorney, Mark Geragos, clashed in court over whether these statements should be admitted into the trial.

"This is a continuing pattern of behavior that ultimately escalated in violence and culminated in murder," Gillingham told Judge David Cena Friday.

Geragos called these statements "garbage hearsay" and argued the witnesses are fabricating their stories about the relationship between Schipsi and his client. He called their statements about the domestic abuse a "feeding frenzy" aimed at Zumot.

"Before, they didn't say anything, but after the arrest they all want to jump on the bandwagon," Geragos said.

Cena largely sided with the prosecution and admitted most of the witness statements into the trial, in most cases after "foundation hearings" with the witnesses.

Gillingham's motion also sheds more light on the fight Schipsi and Zumot had on Oct. 14, the night before the fire. The two exchanged a flurry of disturbing text messages between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., after she walked out of his birthday party and began walking home.

Throughout the text conversation, Schipsi berated Zumot for his behavior at the party and demanded that he pay her the $11,200 he owed her for items he damaged. She asked him not to come into the house, but to leave the check under the door by 11 a.m. the next day and said she'd go the police to file charges if he didn't do so.

Schipsi also told Zumot in a text message to stay away from her and asked him not to ever threaten her again, or else she would "seek ultimate justice."

According to Gillingham's motion, there were two other texts sent from Schipsi's phone on the afternoon of Oct. 15, both to her friends. One of the friends, Jabber Al Suwaidi, later said he believed those texts were sent to him by Zumot, rather than Schipsi. Gillingham said Schipsi died "relatively soon" after 11 a.m.

"The defendant killed Jennifer at least in part to keep her from going to the police and exposing his most recent victimization of her," Gillingham wrote in the motion.

The two sides are now in the midst of picking a jury, a process that they expect to complete by the middle of next week. The trial is scheduled to start Jan. 3.

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