Zumot's friend recalls night before fatal fire

Witness criticizes Palo Alto police, wavers on details of Zumot and Schipsi's fight

Shortly after Bulos Zumot blew out the candles on his birthday cake at the DishDash Restaurant in Sunnyvale, he found himself arguing with his girlfriend, Jennifer Schipsi, over the bill, according to testimony presented Wednesday.

The two were in a car driven by a mutual friend, Victor Chaalan, and were on their way to Zumot's business, Da Hookah Spot, in downtown Palo Alto on Oct. 14, 2009, the night before Schipsi's body was found in the burned cottage she shared with Zumot. During the drive, Zumot began to argue with Schipsi over a collection one of the guests at the party had started to reimburse the couple for the restaurant bill -- a gesture that Zumot opposed, attorneys for both sides said.

Chaalan said Wednesday that he couldn't remember many of the details from the night of Zumot's 36th birthday party. But he recalled that Zumot and Schipsi got into an argument that night and that she was "crying like a baby," making it hard for him to understand what she was saying. Chaalan had told the police during the investigation that Zumot had thrown Schipsi's phone at her during the car ride, transcripts indicate.

But on Wednesday, as he was cross-examined by Zumot's attorney Mark Geragos, Chaalan said Zumot may in fact have been simply handing her the phone by raising his arm and tossing it back.

Chaalan wavered in his testimony, occasionally contradicting the statements he allegedly made to the Palo Alto police shortly after Zumot was arrested on arson and murder charges.

Chaalan's testimony frustrated prosecutor Charles Gillingham, who persistently pressed Chaalan on whether Schipsi seemed upset the night after the fight. Chaalan said he wasn't interested in the personal life between Zumot and Schipsi, which he said is none of his business.

Chaalan said Palo Alto officers had interviewed him on several occasions and asked him several times to repeat details about the items he saw when he entered the residence.

He also criticized the Palo Alto officers who interviewed him and testified that one of the officers told him that the district attorney will "come down on you hard" during the trial. Gillingham disputed this accusation and said Chaalan's allegation isn't supported by anything in the transcripts or recordings of the interviews.

Gillingham repeatedly showed Chaalan the transcript in an attempt to refresh his memory about the argument, but Chaalan said the fight was none of his business and that he knew little about it.

Chaalan's earlier version of the story was corroborated by pre-trial testimony from Palo Alto police Agent Scott Savage, who had interviewed Schipsi's friend Jaber Al Suwaidi. Savage had testified that during the car ride, Schipsi had sent a text message to Al Suwaidi saying that her "phone was just thrown at me."

Chaalan also testified that when they arrived at Da Hookah Spot after Zumot's birthday dinner, Schipsi declined to go into the hookah lounge and walked home by herself, Chaalan testified. Chaalan stayed with Zumot to smoke hookah and play cards until after 2 a.m. and later drove behind him to make sure Zumot got home without any trouble, even though Zumot appeared perfectly sober. Zumot had also asked Chaalan to call Schipsi before they went to the Addison Avenue cottage. Chaalan complied.

Prosecutor Charles Gillingham brought up this episode to demonstrate how upset Schipsi was the night before the fire. But Zumot's attorney, Mark Geragos, downplayed the argument and accused Palo Alto police of constructing a false scenario during their interviews with Chaalan, an auto mechanic who has known Zumot for about eight years.

Chaalan wasn't the only friend of Zumot who testified Wednesday about the relationship between Zumot and Schipsi. Joseph Martinez, a deputy sheriff at the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, said the relationship was what prompted him to break off his business partnership with Zumot. The two were close friends who invested in a San Jose hookah shop in early 2008.

Martinez said Zumot and Schipsi were often together and that Zumot "cleared his schedule for her."

"From the time we met, they were together as much as they could possibly be together," Martinez said.

But the relationship was also characterized by frequent arguments and "drama," Martinez said. Schipsi and Zumot broke up in early 2008, but later reconciled and Schipsi started to spend time at the hookah shop. Martinez said he was "concerned that it would eventually start back up again" and asked Zumot if he could buy him out. Later, when cross-examined by Geragos, he said he didn't want to be around her when she was with Zumot.

After several weeks of negotiation, Zumot bought Martinez out.

Zumot and Martinez remained friends and on the afternoon of Oct. 15, 2009, Martinez called Zumot to wish him a happy birthday and to talk to him about buying hookah supplies. During the conversation, Zumot allegedly mentioned his argument with Schipsi and told Martinez that she walked away upset after he told her to shut up.

Later that day, at about 7:15 p.m., Zumot called Martinez and told him his house was on fire. He also said he hadn't seen Schipsi since that afternoon and went over what he did that afternoon. Martinez testified that Zumot told him that he went to Restaurant Depot, a supply store for restaurants, and then went to his court-ordered class for domestic-violence offenders before going to Da Hookah Spot.

The next morning, they spoke again and this time Zumot allegedly gave him a different version of events. This time, Zumot mentioned that he made a stop at his house before coming to Da Hookah Spot.

"He said he went to Restaurant Depot, he went to the domestic violence class, he went home and saw Jennifer sleeping and then he went to the hookah lounge," Martinez said.

Police arrested Zumot four days after the fire and charged him with arson and murder. The trial is scheduled to resume Friday morning (Jan. 7).

Related stories:

Police handling of Schipsi murder challenged

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

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Wow
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2011 at 10:28 am

And now we read that PAPD had used illegal interrogation methods with the witnesses to intimidate them. Why am I not surprised?
As for the fight? Well, it is irrelevant since the two made love at the end of the night.
And why was Martinez's interview not taped? Oh, wait, he too works for the police department and could lose his job if he does not comply by his supervisor's demands. I can see what type of interrogation method they had used with him.

Like this comment
Posted by Mimi
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2011 at 10:38 am

These comments left on here are obviously from family members of Zumot

Like this comment
Posted by Yup
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2011 at 11:01 am

Mimi, I think you are correct. Most of the Zumot threads are posted with comments that indicate a strong affiliation with the defendant by trying to discredit the victim, the police, the prosecutor or the trial. Very obvious tactic that won't work since the jury isn't allowed to read any of this.

Like this comment
Posted by Susan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 6, 2011 at 11:04 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Yup Again!
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 6, 2011 at 11:08 am

Kind of obvious that the comment is very biased!. I think he's guilty, just haven't seen anything to indicate otherwise. Let the process take its course, but I am confident the jury will do the right thing and Zumot will pay for his rage - finally. Lots of evidence, and nothing to indicate doubt yet - at least not in my mind.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 6, 2011 at 11:17 am


The truth hurts, I know. It's a sad reality but it is reality and you will have to deal with it and accept it.

I find it very interesting how when someone defends Paul, says something about the lack of evidence, criticizes the police, there methods and the investigation. You automatically asume its a member of the Zumot family. Im not related to the Zumot's but I believe in the truth.

You know, people do have minds of there own can think for themselves. I dont just swallow what the police like us all to believe. Police have never been honest and its a known fact that police always try to alter an investigation to better suite their own needs. This investigation is no different, or should I say lack of investigation.

Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2011 at 11:45 am

I don't know if Zumot is guilty or innocent. One hopes the trial brings forth the truth.

What I do have to say is more of a question. Why in the world are some women so oblivious to danger? What is a fact is that Zumot was forced to take domestic violence instruction because of prior violent behavior toward women (this very woman, I believe). The information is definitely available for those who want to know it. Men who are violent toward their partners nearly always escalate. The solution is to get far, far away from the guy.

I have also been aware of many smoothed over incidents of violence toward women by professional athletes. I think they should be punished by immediate removal from their sport forever. I suspect the incidences would drop dramatically.

It keeps on happening. It is just so, so sad.

Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm

He is innocent, just like O.J. Simpson...

Like this comment
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm

ChrisC is a registered user.

Palo Alto Online reporters (as well as Daily Post and PA Daily) attend a full day of testimony at the trial. They then encapsulate, as best as space allows, the proceedings. People who are not actually at the trial really should not infer things such as "the police used illegal interrogation techniques." Geragos is trying with each witness to somehow inject some doubt about the police techniques, but they have been or will be countered by the prosecution witnesses. The paranoid distrust of the PA Police is not warranted. The details and minutiae that have been investigated, analyzed, documented, and revisited boggles the mind. Thousands of hours have been spent and the lead detective is the prosecutor's right-hand guy, traveling to other parts of the country to meet with experts such as the leading IPhone forensics expert in the country, if not the world. Oh, and all the while, keeping Jennifer's family informed. Some commenters have watched too much TV, always looking for some dirty cop or ineptitude. The police work done in this case, and no doubt others, is magnificent, and I'm very, very proud of them.

Like this comment
Posted by Jwoody
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jan 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Jwoody is a registered user.

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

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

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Palo Alto's Taverna to expand next door
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 2,137 views

A Power Play
By Sherry Listgarten | 13 comments | 2,006 views

Back Roads of California Wine Country
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 1,991 views

Piles of artwork
By Cheryl Bac | 1 comment | 757 views

Demonization: Single-family homeowners are deplorables, especially Palo Altans
By Douglas Moran | 6 comments | 269 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.