Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vanessa Zecher found there is sufficient evidence for a first-degree murder charge, with an enhancement of personal use of a deadly weapon, against Jingyan Jin, in the July 7, 2016, killing of Jenny Shi, 65, in Shi's Palo Alto home.
Shi was stabbed 41 times deeply and in a frenetic manner, a forensics expert said during a two-day preliminary hearing that started on Tuesday at the Hall of Justice in San Jose. Shi, 65, an acupuncturist and angel investor, was found dead at 317 Creekside Drive in the Greenmeadow neighborhood.
On the first day of the preliminary hearing, witnesses described finding Shi's body, and a county medical examiner discussed her fatal injuries.
Opening witness Dr. Michelle Jorden, Santa Clara County chief medical examiner and forensic pathologist, testified that Shi was stabbed around the front and back of her neck, upper torso, upper back, shoulder and arm. Her right hand also had defensive stab wounds, indicating she might have tried to shield herself, Jorden said.
Fatal wounds included those to her right jugular vein, trachea, larynx and left arm.
"Given the circumstances and the scene, that she was in bed, clad in her underwear, it was more of a blitz or surprise attack. It looked like she was sleeping," Jorden said.
Deputy Public Defender Kelley Kulick sought to determine if more than one person had attacked Shi. Though most wounds appeared to be on the front of Shi's body, Kulick noted a scrape on the back of her neck near the hairline and two unusual wounds on her upper back. Jorden admitted the two wounds were symmetrical and said that was odd.
"I never saw an injury like that before," she said.
The perpetrator might have been behind Shi, or Shi was turning while the perpetrator was in front of her. However, there was no indication that more than one weapon had been used, Jorden said.
Toxicology tests showed no illicit drugs or alcohol in Shi's body. And Jorden did not find any evidence that Shi had been sexually assaulted, she said.
Three people who found Shi's body also testified. Menlo Park residents John Kennedy and his wife, Daizhen Zhou, said they were the first people to arrive at Shi's home after receiving a phone call from her accountant. Shi had not shown up for a business meeting scheduled for that morning and had not responded to multiple calls. By afternoon, the accountant had asked the couple to look in on her.
Kennedy and Zhou called Shi's younger sister, Yanmin Shi, and Jenny Shi's handyman/contractor, Shifu Zhang, who were to meet them at the house.
Zhou testified through a Mandarin-language interpreter that she had been Shi's housekeeper for many years. They had met at Shi's parents' home, which she also cleaned. Zhou was also housekeeper for defendant Jin, she said. She cleaned their homes about once a week.
Kennedy and Zhou got to Shi's house at about 6 p.m. Shi's new Porsche SUV was on the driveway. Kennedy said they knew if she were away, the car would not be there.
While he stayed in their car, Zhou unlocked the front door with a house key that Shi, whom she called "Boss," had given her. Shi usually had a couple of renters living in the home, and the first thing Zhou noticed was that no one was there.
"I strolled around the house and walked to the back. The deceased's room was closed off. I got a little worried. I did find it unusual. Even when Boss was in Beijing, the blinds would not be closed. The bedroom door was locked," she said.
Zhou said she went outside and called the handyman, Zhang, and told him the situation seemed strange because the house was closed up with the blinds drawn.
Kennedy went around to the back of the house and knocked on doors and windows, calling for Shi, but there was no answer, he said.
Zhou said she saw that the bathroom window was open. She noticed a chair propped against the house beneath it. The screen was pulled up or cut and the lower glass window and its frame were missing. The window blinds covered her view, and she tried to move them a little way to look inside. She could not see anything, she said.
"I was scared. Even right now recalling this makes me scared. Every day, if I recall this, I get scared," she said.
When Shi's sister and Zhang arrived, all four entered the home. Kennedy said there were two doors: One led to a hallway and master bathroom, and beyond it was the bedroom door. Both were locked. Zhang and Kennedy broke down the hallway door because the hinges were on the inside. As they passed the bathroom, Zhou, Kennedy and Yanmin Shi said they noticed the window had been placed in the bathtub. Zhou said she had never seen anything like that in the bathroom before.
Kennedy and Zhang removed the bedroom-door hinges with tools they found in the kitchen. The room was dark, but as Zhou took a step forward, her eyes adjusted to light coming in between the window coverings. She could see the bed. She saw blood staining the pillow, she said.
Through a Mandarin-language interpreter, Yanmin Shi testified that she hadn't spoken with her sister for one or two months. It wasn't unusual, she said. At the time she was caring for both of their parents in her home.
"I didn't have too much free time to take care of Jenny," she testified.
Upon entering her sister's bedroom, she walked toward the bed and could see only the top of Jenny Shi's head and her black hair among a jumble of blankets and a comforter.
Then Zhang suddenly grabbed her and pulled her out of the bedroom. He pulled her to the living room, she recalled.
"Almost at the living room, he said, 'Your sister has been killed.'
"Mr. Zhang stayed with me the whole time. I collapsed. After that I don't know anything. I collapsed and I couldn't walk," she said.
Two alleged altercations
During testimony, Jin, the diminutive defendant, sat quietly beside her attorney. Dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, the color reserved for those accused of murders and homicides, her formerly shoulder-length hair has grown down to the middle of her back in the two years since she was arrested on Oct. 6, 2016, and placed in custody.
Yanmin Shi identified her as the wife of her younger brother, Jingmin Shi. They met in 2012 in Beijing, Shi said. Jin is a housewife, she added, and didn't have any business ties to Jenny Shi.
During Wednesday's testimony, Yanmin Shi said her sister told her that she and Jin had two prior altercations. The first, in 2015, took place in Jenny Shi's Beijing investment office. Her sister traveled to Beijing about once a month, she said. When her sister returned home from Beijing, she showed Shi photos on her cellphone of scratches on her face that she said Jin had made during an attack.
Shi said her sister's face still bore scratch marks from four fingers that had raked down her cheek. Her sister recounted that Jin had come to the office and began the fight. But her sister didn't say why they argued.
The second incident occurred in winter 2015 or spring 2016. Jin allegedly broke into Jenny Shi's Creekside Drive home and began arguing. There was no physical altercation, but Jenny Shi called police, and officers escorted Jin from the residence.
"Did she express fear of the defendant?" Deputy District Attorney Luis Ramos asked.
"She was unwilling to have any dealings. She kept a distance," Yanmin Shi said.
Jin, her husband and their two daughters lived in the Creekside home in 2014 with Jenny Shi. They stayed about a year and moved out in 2015, Yanmin Shi recalled. Jin's husband was only there a few times that year for about a month at a time. The rest of the time he was in China, she said.
Jenny Shi did not share with her sister whether the family had any problems. Yanmin Shi said her sister never spoke of financial difficulties.
Ramos then sought to tie Jin to the crime scene through cellphone data and DNA.
Jim Cook, a cell-data analyst, testified that he tracked Jin's and Jenny Shi's cellphones based on signals to cell towers.
Shi had been at a residence in Menlo Park's Sharon Heights neighborhood on the night of July 6. At around the same time, at 10:15 p.m., Jin was at her Palo Alto residence on San Antonio Road. By 10:28 p.m., Shi had traveled to an In-N-Out burger restaurant on Rengstorff Avenue in Mountain View before returning home.
At close to 11 p.m., Jin's and Shi's cell data signals overlapped. Data showed the same cell tower within the crime scene area picked up the signals from both phones coming from the southwest direction starting about 10:56 p.m. The signal direction and the tower that received the signal was significant in determining where Jin's phone was at the time the prosecution believes that Shi was murdered. Cook said that he checked Jin's cell data signals from when she lived at the Creekside residence in 2014, and they were the same as those picked up on the night of the killing.
The cellphone signals also showed that Jin's phone remained stagnant in the vicinity of the crime scene from 11:26 p.m. until about 5:26 a.m. on July 7. The signal was only captured by another tower near Jin's home at 5:36 a.m., he said.
Under cross-examination by Kulick, Cook said cellphone tracking is not specific enough to pinpoint the exact location of a phone. Kulick also noted that Cook identified data from Jin's teenage daughter's phone, which showed the girl was also away from the home from 4:55 a.m. to 5:55 a.m. on July 7.
Kulick questioned the accuracy of the data and its margin for error. But Cook said that another type of data collection called NELOS, or historical GPS locations, validated the data related to Jin's whereabouts during the roughly six hours she is thought to have been at Shi's residence.
"There were multiple GPS hits in the same location. She was not moving around," he said.
Kevin Kellogg, a criminalist with the Santa Clara County Crime Lab, said he tested various swab samples taken from objects at Shi's home for DNA.
He found a partial match with Jin's DNA on the latches of the window found in the bathtub. The DNA findings excluded any of the roommates or Shi. The edges of the window frame also found a possible DNA contribution from Jin and another unidentified person, he said.
A swab from a light switch on a lamp in Shi's bedroom showed strong evidence of Shi's DNA profile. Jin's DNA was a possible minor contributor to the DNA mix found on the lamp switch, he said.
Kellogg also found another possible contribution of an unknown person's DNA on the body of the lamp, along with Shi's.
Kellogg found male DNA on Shi's right hand, but it was insufficient to say to whom it belonged. Swabs of the interior bedroom door handle and the exterior handle on the bathroom door found a mixture of DNA from three people, at least one of whom was male.
Kellogg said shaking hands or touching objects could transfer DNA. He admitted on cross-examination by Kulick that if a DNA profile is found, it doesn't necessarily mean it was recent.
Jin pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and enhancement on May 15, 2017. She will return to court on Nov. 26 for formal arraignment on the charges.
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