Witnesses recall Zumot's arson threats

Murder victim Jennifer Schipsi allegedly told several people Zumot planned to burn down business for insurance money

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Palo Alto real-estate agent Jennifer Schipsi told several people that her boyfriend, Bulos Zumot, threatened to kill her and set fire to both their shared cottage and his downtown Palo Alto business, Da Hookah Spot, according to testimony the jury heard Monday (Jan. 31).

The testimony became admissible in Zumot's murder-and-arson trial last week, when Judge David Cena granted the prosecution's motion for a "hearsay exemption." Zumot was arrested Oct. 18, 2009, and charged with killing Schipsi three days earlier and setting the Addison Avenue cottage on fire to cover up the evidence.

The San Jose jury heard on Monday from Leslie Mills, the daughter of Zumot's landlord at Da Hookah Spot. Schipsi allegedly told Mills' sister in August 2009 about a plot by Zumot to set fire to the lounge. Later, Schipsi told Mills that she feared for her life, Mills testified.

"She said, 'Sorry, I can't get involved, because he said he would kill me and burn my

house down,'" Mills said.

Schipsi's friend, Heather Winters, also testified about Zumot's threats to burn down the lounge. She said Schipsi told her in August that he planned to use coals to set fire to his business. He did not plan to renew the lease for the failing lounge and planned to make the fire appear accidental in order to collect insurance money before reopening in a Fremont location, Winters said Schipsi told her.

Palo Alto Police Agent Adrienne Moore testified Monday about an interview she and her partner, Jared Monroe, conducted with Schipsi on Aug. 24, 2009. The officers were dispatched to a "terrorist-threat call" and interviewed Schipsi for an hour at a residence on Kipling Street, the home of Schipsi's mother and her boyfriend.

Schipsi was "very scared, very unsettled," Moore said, and Schipsi told the police that her boyfriend had threatened her life over the phone.

"She said he had said he was going to kill her, and that she was a b----, and that she was

dead," Moore recalled. Moore also said Schipsi was "in fear for her life" and had told the police that Zumot was fascinated with forensics shows and "the perfect crime."

Moore did not, however, include Zumot's alleged "fascination" in a report written by her

partner and only later submitted this addition in a supplemental file, she testified.

"It didn't seem germane to the case," Moore said.

In a "pretext call" recorded later that day, Moore said, Schipsi called the defendant while her phone was connected to a digital recording device in order to capture Zumot talking

about the alleged threat.

The evidence tag on the resulting CD rendered it corrupted, said Detective Aaron Sunseri, the lead detective on the case. But Deputy District Attorney Charles Gillingham told reporters after proceedings that the call had yielded little evidence, as Zumot told Schipsi he knew the call was recorded, Gillingham said.

Schipsi stated in a Sept. 18, 2009, declaration that she was mistaken in thinking Zumot threatened her, as the call came from a restricted number and she couldn't identify the threatening voice as Zumot's, defense attorney Mark Geragos said during his cross-examination of Sunseri.

"'I am convinced that Bulos Zumot did not threaten me,'" Geragos quoted from the


Geragos tried to instill doubt as to the nature of Winter's relationship with Schipsi. He showed Halloween 2009 photographs of Winters with a former employee of Da Hookah Spot, taken off the social-networking website Facebook.

"This is days after the girl who you said was 'like a sister' to you passed away?" Geragos asked.

He also aimed to establish in cross-examination that Zumot could not have had time to set fire to the cottage he shared with Schipsi on Oct. 15, 2009. Geragos showed Google map routes -- with estimations of traffic time removed -- to


After completing a court-ordered domestic violence class by 5:45 p.m. or 5:55 p.m. the

day of the fire, Zumot is first seen in Da Hookah Spot surveillance footage at 6:47 p.m.

The fire was reported to Palo Alto dispatchers at 6:39 p.m.

The trial continued Tuesday morning (Feb. 1).

Related stories:

Schipsi's friends say she felt she was in danger

Video places Zumot at his lounge just after fire

Zumot's friend recalls night before fatal fire

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Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2011 at 3:12 am

Is it wrong to say that even though I am not on the jury, this guy just seems sooooo guilty? It just gives me the willies walking by that Hookah place on my way to the Stanford Theater.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2011 at 7:50 am

I'm still waiting for all the revelations we've been promised by his family members, who claim that when the truth comes out at last, we'll all see how innocent he is. So far, there has been nothing but this steady accumulation of details that point to Zumot. With the passage of time, it does become more challenging to keep an open mind.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 1, 2011 at 8:08 am

So sad that this could have been prevented. Someone who has a restraining order and has to go to anger management does NOT love the person they're with. It's only a matter of time before the violence escalates.

Like this comment
Posted by joebiden
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2011 at 8:24 am

so far all we see is hearsay, tape recording damaged by the police department, miscalculatings and blunders in the investigation, and a one sided press, what more do u want!!!!

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

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