When Bulos Zumot arrived at the scene of his burning cottage on Oct. 15, 2009, he began making calls to friends, co-workers and his landlord in hopes of locating his girlfriend, Jennifer Schipsi, Zumot testified at his arson-and-murder trial Monday.
These included his friend Joe Martinez, a deputy sheriff at Monterey County, the employees at Da Hookah Spot, and his girlfriend's mother, Jamie Schipsi.
On Monday, in his final day of testimony, Zumot parried suggestions from prosecutor Charles Gillingham that he could have made a greater effort to contact Schipsi herself.
Zumot's phone calls and text messages, as well as his actions on the day of the fire, reemerged Monday as the focus of Gillingham's cross-examination of Zumot, a Palo Alto resident who police believe strangled Schipsi and burned the house to cover up the crime.
Gillingham showed the jury a series of messages that Schipsi sent Zumot on the morning of Oct. 15, 2009, demanding money and threatening to call the police. He pointed to these messages as evidence that they had a major fight hours before her body was found.
Zumot's attorney, Tina Glandian, cited other occasions in which Schipsi barraged Zumot with a series of offensive messages, only to make up with him shortly after. She noted their fight the night before the fire, when Schipsi walked from Da Hookah Spot on University Avenue back to the cottage after an argument with Zumot. Later that night, Zumot said he and Schipsi had sex and recorded it.
Zumot testified that there was nothing unusual about her venting at him and then reconciling. He called Schipsi a "forgiver" and said she followed the same pattern on Oct. 15, 2009 -- a string of angry messages followed by a quick reconciliation.
He said she was sending him the messages to "push my buttons" and to "get a reaction."
Gillingham also challenged Zumot's earlier testimony about his actions on the day of the fire. Last week, when he was questioned by Glandian, Zumot testified that he was certain he arrived at Da Hookah Spot at 6:32 p.m. that day -- about seven minutes before the fire was reported.
At the time, Zumot said he knew it was exactly 6:32 p.m. because he had just unplugged his iPhone from its car charger as he was arriving at the cafe and the phone's dark screen lit up, displaying the exact time.
On Monday, Gillingham showed Zumot a transcript from a phone conversation Zumot had while in jail. During that phone call, Zumot told the other person that he arrived at the location at 6:20 or 6:25 p.m.
Zumot said he was locked up in a maximum-security cell for 60 straight hours and allowed to go outside for one hour. He said he was stressed out at the time of the phone call and may have given the wrong information.
"I might have," Zumot said. "I was under a lot of stress, a lot of confusion."
"Stress made you say 6:20 to 6:25 p.m. versus what you knew to be the truth?" Gillingham countered.
Gillingham also recalled Zumot's earlier testimony that his domestic-violence class in San Jose got out at about 5:55 p.m. that evening, a key detail given that the Addison Avenue fire was reported about 45 minutes later. Zumot also said he called his employees at Da Hookah Spot immediately after the class got out.
On Monday, Gillingham showed Zumot's phone records indicating he made calls at 5:45, 5:46 and 5:47 p.m.
After Gillingham pressed Zumot on the time of the calls, Zumot said he wasn't sure exactly when the class got out.
Zumot also testified that while at the class he was deleting text messages from his phone -- most of which were exchanges with Schipsi that involved Schipsi insulting him, demanding money that she claimed he owed her and threatening to go to the police if he didn't pay.
Zumot offered several explanations for why he deleted those texts. He first said he wanted to get rid of "negative" messages in his phone. When Gillingham pointed to seemingly innocuous messages and asked Zumot why he deleted those, he said he deleted them because they meant nothing. Minutes later, Zumot said he "just randomly picked which I delete."
Gillingham then asked Zumot why he deleted a message he sent to Schipsi on the night of Oct. 14, 2009, asking her, "Where r u?"
"I can't give you an answer -- there is no reason," Zumot said. "I delete whatever I want whenever I want."
Zumot also maintained that he did not owe Schipsi any money and that he never threatened her, her text messages notwithstanding.
"She's lying," Zumot said when Gillingham pointed to a text in which Schipsi demands money for a series of items she claimed Zumot destroyed. "She's trying to make money off me."
Zumot said they had completely reconciled on Oct. 15 and "everything was fine." He said he became extremely concerned about Schipsi when he learned the house was on fire. He said he drove to the house immediately but was told by Palo Alto police Officer Craig Lee not to go inside.
Lee, who testified for the second time Monday afternoon, recalled Zumot making a series of phone calls from the scene and looking upset but not actually crying.
One of those phone calls was to his friend, Joe Martinez, a deputy sheriff at Monterey County. Witnesses testified earlier that Martinez and Schipsi did not get along and Gillingham asked Zumot Monday why he chose to call Martinez if he was concerned about Schipsi.
"I called Joe Martinez to ask him what should I do," Zumot said. "He told me this is not a coincidence. Be careful."
Gillingham asked him how many times he tried actually calling Schipsi. Zumot said he tried calling her once or twice, but maintained that he made many calls to people who he hoped would tell him where Schipsi was first.
At about 7:45 p.m. he called his landlord, John Eckland, to ask him if Schipsi's car was parked in the driveway. He said he became more concerned when he learned it was.
Gillingham then revisited the record of phone calls Zumot made from the scene.
"After Eckland told you her car was there, you called her zero times?" Gillingham asked.
"I don't remember," Zumot responded.
When his own attorney later questioned him about these phone calls, Zumot testified that he had already made several calls and sent several texts to Schipsi earlier that day and had assumed she would respond when she noticed those calls.
The trial will continue Tuesday morning.
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