News

Police handling of Schipsi murder challenged

Defense attorney attacks handling of arson evidence, coroner delay for 18 hours

Palo Alto police forgot to call the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office and delayed examination of murder victim Jennifer Schipsi's body for 18 hours, a Santa Clara County forensic pathologist admitted Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 4).

The revelation was the second challenge of the day to how police handled evidence. Defense attorney Mark Geragos attempted to dismantle arson and other evidence implicating his client, Bulos "Paul" Zumot, in the Oct. 15, 2009, strangulation and burning of his girlfriend, Schipsi.

Prosecutors say Zumot and Schipsi's two-year relationship was marked by domestic violence and that she had once obtained a restraining order against him.

Forensic pathologist Glenn V. Nazareno said his examination of Schipsi's charred remains showed she had died after being strangled and was then set on fire to cover up the crime.

Schipsi's hyoid bone in the windpipe had been crushed, he said. There was evidence of significant bleeding in her throat, showing that her heart was pumping at the time her throat was crushed. He said there was no soot in her esophagus or lungs, indicating that she was not breathing when the fire was set.

Schipsi's body was badly charred and she was identified through dental records, he said.

But on cross-examination by Geragos, Nazareno admitted that police had first told his office not to come immediately to the burned Addison Avenue cottage to pick up her remains, but to wait for the police to call. That call did not come until about 18 hours later, breaking protocol, because police forgot to call, he said.

"Wouldn't it have been infinitely better to have been there sooner?" Geragos asked.

Nazareno said it would, but the delay did not alter the evidence or his conclusion that Schipsi had died from being strangled.

"Could it have affected the time of death?" Geragos asked.

Nazareno said it could, but the extent that her body was burned probably would have more impact on that determination.

"Given the fact that a fire was created ... all bets are off" in terms of establishing a precise time of death, he said.

Geragos continued to press Nazareno: "None of the protocol was followed in this case?" Geragos asked.

"Yes, that's correct," Nazareno said.

Geragos had earlier attacked the testimony of Dennis Johnsen, Santa Clara County chief fire investigator, whose sniffer dog, Rosie, found accelerant on Zumot's shoes, socks, pants waistband, sweatshirt and on the passenger-side floor mat and rug of his black Land Rover.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) laboratory testing only found accelerant on the shoes, Geragos pointed out.

He showed the jury an ATF report that noted K-9s (sniffer dogs) will sometimes come up with a false positive for accelerants. "Lab verification of all positives is necessary," according to the report.

Johnsen said he did not agree with ATF's analysis. At a training for dogs and handlers, several had complained that ATF was bringing their testing levels down too low to be able to detect what dogs can sniff.

Geragos questioned if anyone at the training had ever recorded the complaints. Johnsen said he did not know. He could not say how many false positives Rosie had produced. In seven years with Rosie, she had done 60,000 to 70,000 sniffing times, he estimated.

"There's no way to test those thousands of times," to find which were false positives, Geragos countered.

Johnsen said he was confident the dog had correctly identified the accelerant. The dog's behaviors and actions were strong positive alerts, he said.

Geragos also pointed to chemist's notes, which Johnsen said he had not seen.

"Are you aware of a strong smell of cologne on those items?" Geragos asked. Johnsen said he didn't recall smelling cologne.

Geragos asked: What if components of some colognes are the same chemically as in gasoline? Had Rosie ever been tested for false positives for cologne?

Johnsen admitted she hadn't.

Johnsen confirmed that other combustible products, such as tar paper, contain similar substances as gasoline but there were no such distractors for the dog in the car, he said.

Pressed by Geragos over what could cause the discrepancy between the dog's and ATF's analysis, Johnsen seemed flustered.

Something could have happened to the evidence after it was repackaged and sent to the lab, but he did not know what, if anything had occurred.

Related stories:

Zumot-trial attorneys clash over arson evidence

Cell phone takes center stage at Zumot trial

Boyfriend arrested in Palo Alto death of Jennifer Marie Schipsi

Police say Zumot, Schipsi fought before she died

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by A-Taxpayer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2011 at 10:12 am

Memo to: Palo Alto Police Department:
From: A Taxpayer

To whom it may concern --

Please make up a check list of required activities that must be attended to in order to support successful prosecutions in criminal cases, such as this.

The so-called "lead" should be expected to use this in managing criminal investigations, and the check sheet should be reviewed and counter-signed by a Department manager (such as the Asst. Chief, or the Chief).

While this particular problem might not be particularly damaging to the conviction of this particular defendant, anything that cast suspicion on the police doesn't help the prosecution.

Please start using modern project management techniques, such as checklists.

//A Taxpayer


Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2011 at 10:18 am

Please keep us posted on this case. Its interesting that Paul fired his original attorney and hired the same guy that defended Scott Peterson. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online]


Like this comment
Posted by mike vu
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Damm the police is hiding something here, they are not doing a good job, they need to start looking for someone else? who killed here? media also needs to slow down and not support what DA say's not sure its right? lets wait and see what happen.


Like this comment
Posted by CalistaAdams
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Why did the police tell the coroner not to go to the scene to examine the body? Does this mean they left the dead body in the house for 18 hours? I'm not a crime scene investigator or a police officer, but I still know that a dead body should not be left unattended for that long. Isn't that why we call 911 when someone dies? To take the body to the morgue, right? They "forgot"? What else did they "forget" to do? Looking for the real killer, perhaps? Or may be they were hiding something, who knows?


Like this comment
Posted by not again!
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Wait until we find out who was supposed to call the ME. That's pretty important stuff.Like find another job, important. Was the body left unattended, or were people working/walking around her for 18-20 hours? That just seems cold.I may be mistaken, but doesn't gasoline dissipate in open air?


Like this comment
Posted by DawnScholls
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm

19-20 hours is a very long time. They must have left the body in the house overnight. Very irresponsible of them.


Like this comment
Posted by Ugh
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm

We get to look forward to trolls supporting defendant via these posts throughout the trial.


Like this comment
Posted by not again!
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I support good Police work. I am sure there are far more good points in the evidence yet to be presented. It's a learning situation for all. That's why they call it 'practicing' Law. Now, I don't know why they did what they did, but it's done. It probably already haunts them. Let's move forward and let the case unwind. It is interesting, albeit tragic...


Like this comment
Posted by ughugh
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by ughugh
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm

not again! I agree with you, I too support, admire, and appreciate good police work, the key word here is GOOD, and so far, we have not seen any good police work; a beautiful girl is dead, a man who says he loved her and was intending to propose to her is on trial for her murder, he too is fighting for his life, and you are telling me the best is yet to come from this police work? I don't think so. But, we'll wait and see their best.


Like this comment
Posted by DawnScholls
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm

There are wonderful police officers who save lives, and there are those who are corrupt or simply lazy and do not do their job. Unforutnately, the latter, or those who are involved in this case, ruin it for those who work hard and are dedicated. I do not see anything wrong with condemning corruption and incompetence in our community. We aim at improving through constructional criticism. We live in a free society after all. I don't think this should make anybody upset.


Like this comment
Posted by Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Watcher is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Ugh to Watcher
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm

What culture does Zumot hail from?


Like this comment
Posted by Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Watcher is a registered user.

Zumot is Jordanian. I don't want to start some cultural debate here. There are good and bad people in all cultures. It simply appears from what I have read that women are considered second class citizens in some circles of this culture. Here is an article to read:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Mike vu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Oh so because he came from a different culture he is guilty, what are you saying, do some research and check numbers and look where are the most abusive cases aginst womens are, let me help you it's the USA not other countries, I think from day one because of his race they wanted to make him guilty, I smell racial disgremention here, also you should go to the court and see how all what they da has is theories, they are doing a bad job, I feel bad to see how unexcperice officer handling this case, by they way i am not related to anyone is this case, I hope it's not late to find the Keller.


Like this comment
Posted by Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Watcher is a registered user.

I was at the court today, listening to testimony from his police officer friend and business partner as well as his friend who drove him home the night/day of the murder.

The evidence is overwhelmingly pointing at Zumot. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Open ur mind
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:49 pm

"Range Rovers and hookah bars..... What did he do to deserve this". He worked his a@@ off to deserve it. No one helped him. Hard work, determination and perserverance achieved this!

You are obviously very prejudice, closed minded and uneducated if that's how you think. Jordanians do not miss treat woman , but rather treat them like a princess. I'm a female Jordanian, born and raised in the good old USA. I have dated men from different cultures and what I have found is Jordanian men are the only men who treated me the way I deserved to be treated.

I can guarantee that you have never dated a Jordanian or middle Eastern. Because if you did , your opinion would be drastically different. It's sad that in 2011 people still think the way you do.

I hope peace finds you.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike vu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I guess will wait and see if there is any evidence, so far he said, she said, jury will go with facts and evidence not he said she said, do you think you are in Jamaica, he is not guilty till proven other wise, it's the other way, we are in the USA


Like this comment
Posted by Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 5, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Watcher is a registered user.

On February 7, 2008, after having broken up with Mr. Zumot, Ms. Schipsi attempted to collect her belongings from his house. She recounts the ensuing ordeal in the restraining order application:

“[Mr. Zumot] grabbed my arm and would not allow me to leave, all the while screaming profanities in my ear. After about ten minutes he let me go, [and] as I got in my car, he came out and kicked in the front door…I did not file a police report because I was afraid he would retaliate.”

She reported that on March 14, Mr. Zumot followed her into a Starbucks in San Jose, then followed her to her car and spit in her face. On March 14, Ms. Schipsi received 88 text messages from Mr. Zumot. On the 15th she received over 200 calls and texts. Mr. Zumot would go from “one extreme to the next,” texting her, “I love you and will have you back at any cost,” “mark my word, you will be my wife someday,” and then, “I have to get you out of my life @ any price.” Ms. Schipsi ended her restraining order statement with: “I need this man to leave me alone… I am afraid for my safety and need help.” According to the Contra Costa Times, Ms. Schipsi’s mother said that, “her daughter had once placed a letter in a safe-deposit box stating that ‘if anything ever happened to her, Paul Zumot did it.’”

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 5, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Watcher is a registered user.

Doesn't look like "Paul" was a very nice guy.

Just my opinion.


Like this comment
Posted by Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 5, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Watcher is a registered user.

According to one report, Schipsi had told the police that Zumot "always talks about his infatuation with murder and how he would plan the 'perfect murder.'" Schipsi also told the police that Zumot was "very angry" and that he swore at her and told her he would kill her.

Zumot had also allegedly talked about burning down Da Hookah Spot for insurance money, according to a police report. His plans had prompted Schipsi to leave a voicemail message for the daughter of the building's owner, informing her that she has information about a "tenant at the hookah bar." Later, in a phone conversation with the daughter, Schipsi allegedly "stated that Bulos Zumot threatened to kill and burn down Jennifer Schipsi's house, if Jennifer talked to the police."

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Open Ur Mind
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm

If you read correctly he never, NEVER hit her! It was Jennifer who went running back to Paul asking him to take her back. You choose to believe what you want and not the truth. Thats ok, you dont know any better.

In the end when Paul is found not guilty, because he is innocent. Thats all that needs to be said. This forum and other forums is really useless in terms of what you believe, because what you believe is wrong. I'm not saying that to disrespect you, Im saying that because you really do not know the whole story.

This whole thing is very tragic, there are no winners here. Everyone is hurting and in pain.

Its very apparent that you have hate in you heart. Once again, I hope peace finds you.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike vu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Again her mom said, he said, she said, and Zumot family we say, he said, she said, dude evidence? I don't see any so far, unless da wants to make it emotional case, but jury will not go with emotions I guess? This is how the system works I guess?


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2011 at 9:30 pm

It's very disappointing that the police made such a huge mistake in this case. I'm a frequent supporter of the department and I hope it does not change the outcome of this trial. This man is innocent until proven guilty, however it does sound as if he might have done this. If so, I hope he is found guilty, no matter who turns up to watch the trial or what anyone might write in this forum. I agree that our police need a checklist and they need to follow it. Any of us might be the victim of such a dreadful act and we can only hope the police would handle the crime scene with a great deal more care and respect. Badly done.


Like this comment
Posted by Silly,
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Observer you missed this part....

"Wouldn't it have been infinitely better to have been there sooner?" Geragos asked.

Nazareno said it would, but the delay did not alter the evidence or his conclusion that Schipsi had died from being strangled.



Like this comment
Posted by DawnScholls
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2011 at 10:08 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by register
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2011 at 10:20 pm

i will never understand why these types of forums are open to anyone posting. this should be a discussion for "registered" users to eliminate nonsense posting.


Like this comment
Posted by being objective
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 6, 2011 at 1:01 am

seems that emotions are running high on both sides, no one is being realistic or objective about this story, my understanding is that this trial is scheduled for 5 weeks and only 3 days past by, shouldn't we all wait till the end before we start throwing accusations around, a woman is dead, another life is on the line, and the whole story is not told yet, so far it is unclear to what really happened that night, we have a D A who changed his story as to what happened that night at least twice, using different stories to guess what happened that night, made few mistakes along the way that makes it difficult to believe any of them, and i see that evidence was mishandled and the investigation was to say the least lousy, we have a dog that made a booboo, coroner was not invited to the investigation i think because they felt he was not needed so they can take credit for solving the crime, no time of fire yet, and the list goes on, however to many are taking shots at both parties involved without knowing the facts, hearsay is just that, anyone can make up something to hurt another person, so lets all wait for the truth and the facts to come out before we crucify anyone involved, let be objective people


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2011 at 1:10 am

Silly, Have you ever seen what lawyers do in a murder trial?


Like this comment
Posted by being objective
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2011 at 1:14 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by being objective
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2011 at 1:24 am

yes observer i have seen, you are not saying that every one that is being defended in a murder trial is guilty, are you!!!!! have you seen people being set free because of DNA evidence, you know they were not defended enough, it goes both ways. every one has the right to defend themselves, don't u think!!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Paul's Sister
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 6, 2011 at 5:08 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by Pbserver
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2011 at 7:42 am

Dear "being objective," No, if you read my post you would see how I said he is innocent until proven guilty. If I were on the jury I'd have to wait and form an opinion based on what was presented in court. However I'm a free citizen and have the right to form an opinion and to express it here in the US. My opinion is that this is a seriously violent man, who is on record as having threatened the victim. When you have a restraining order against someone, the things he did are a matter of public record. A man who behaves in the way he did is, in my opinion, the most likely suspect when the person who had to ask to be protected against him turns up with a broken neck, all burned up, when he just paid her a visit. The other point you didn't understand was that lawyers, when given a gap of hours for all the imaginary murderers to get in and tamper with the evidence, will spend a lot of time in court embroidering upon all the thousands of folks who might have got in there after the fact and made it look as if the defendant did it. Reasonable doubt is often created in this vacuum, and now the police have served it up. Watch what they do with it.


Like this comment
Posted by CalistaAdams
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 6, 2011 at 7:52 am

Again, the "threats" she said he had against her are hearsay and won't be admitted as evidence. Even if they were to be admitted, we all know that Jennifer had received threats from other men, and has a history of filing and removing restraining orders.

The police wants you to believe that there was a fight, but if you were really PRESENT in court, you would know that there was no "fight," and that Jennifer and Paul went home and had sex. The only person besides Paul who witnessed the "fight" testified yesterday that it was just a simple argument, and was not as magnified or as serious as the police made it sound. The fact that they went home and made love afterwards is the biggest proof that their was no clash, or that if there was one, that they forgave each other. In fact, and whether you like it or not, the last picture or video of Jennifer alive shows her with Paul in their most intimate situations.

As for the other "evidence" you are talking about, I do not see anything objective about it. I do not see anything that links Paul to the crime. Yes, she died in his or her house, but many women get killed in their houses by strangers and by enemies. Did Jennifer have enemies? Did Jennifer have death threats from other men? Did Jennifer wrong other people? Was Jennifer stalked the night before her death when she walked home, and again on the day she died? Was This is all yet to be discussed in trial.

As for the phone being with him, this is a theory by the DA that has not been proven scientifically. If the experts can support his theory a 100% and once they do, you may be able to come and discuss "evindecne" here.

And how about the DNA and other physical evidence? How about that gasoline can that was found in the fire scene? Why did the lab results not found Paul's DNA on it? Why was the police not able to prove that Paul is the one who purchased that can?

Just yesterday a person was exonarated after being in prison for 30 years. DNA freed him, but still we cannot deny the fact that he was wrongfully convicted based on "circumstantial" evidence and prejudices like yours and those of the Palo Alto firemen and detectives. You can read the story here:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2011 at 8:04 am

Thank you CalistaAdams for demonstrating the kind of 'reasoning' the defense lawyers will do to create 'reasonable doubt.' Clearly, there are folks posting here who have an agenda. Fortunately, this is not the courtroom and we all have the right to express our opinion, even if it's very one sided because we have a reality we wish to preserve.


Like this comment
Posted by Paul's sister
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 6, 2011 at 8:09 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 6, 2011 at 8:33 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Magdolina
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2011 at 9:24 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] In case you think Paul and his family are monsters who have no feelings, you are wrong. And if it makes you feel better to know that they are in pain, then know damn well that they are hurting. It is for sure not the same type of pain that Jennifer's family is feeling, since Jennifer is gone for ever and died an awful death, but Paul's family is aching too, aching for the oppression their son is facing, and for his wrong imprisonment. They are victims too, victims of an investigation gone wrong and false accusations by others. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by being objective
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2011 at 9:30 am

"Pressed by Geragos over what could cause the discrepancy between the dog's and ATF's analysis, Johnsen seemed flustered".
"Something could have happened to the evidence after it was repackaged and sent to the lab, but he did not know what, if anything had occurred".
hmmm, sounds like someone is throwing the police dept. under the bus, they will never admit the dog made a mistake even though miss rosie made the very same mistake before, IN DENIAL, aren't they, hey may be the dog handler values the dog more than he values a human, our love for dogs should not surpass our love for our fellow human beings. what Johnson wants every one to believe that the dog is perfect and cannot and will not make such as a mistake but will throw the entire police dept. under the bus for Rosie's sake.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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