02/11/2011 05:42:04 AM PST
The family of murder victim Jennifer Schipsi wept with relief Thursday, moments after a Santa Clara County jury convicted her boyfriend Bulos “Paul” Zumot of strangling her and setting fire to their Palo Alto home.
“I heard that word ‘guilty’ and I thanked Jesus, and Jenny gave me a hug,” Schipsi’s father Jim Schipsi said as he fought back tears outside the Hall of Justice in San Jose.
Jurors found Zumot guilty of first-degree murder and arson. The 37-year-old former owner of Da Hookah Spot in downtown Palo Alto had taken the stand in his own defense during the 4½-week trial.
Schipsi, a 29-year-old real estate agent, was killed Oct. 15, 2009, and her burnt body was found in the Addison Avenue cottage she shared with Zumot.
Inside the crowded courtroom, family and friends of Schipsi cried and prayed aloud before the verdict was read. Once Zumot was declared guilty, one woman exclaimed “Thank God,” then repeated it.
“It was just a release of the tension and all the other emotions I had ever since day one, that at least justice, at least the person who is responsible, is going to pay,” Jim Schipsi said outside the courtroom.
Zumot’s family members also cried as the convicted murderer, who looked numb, was escorted away. They declined to comment after the verdict.
Outside the courthouse, Zumot’s high-profile defense attorney Mark Geragos said the jury was diligent but both he and his defendant were “bewildered” by the verdict.
After leaving the courtroom, jurors could not be found to comment.
Deputy District Attorney Chuck Gillingham argued during the trial that Schipsi’s murder culminated a turbulent two-year relationship punctuated by domestic violence. Zumot strangled his on-again, off-again girlfriend the day after they had a nasty argument during his birthday dinner celebration, according to the prosecution’s case.
Gillingham relied heavily on cell phone records to make his case, presenting heated text messages Schipsi sent to Zumot in the early morning hours of the day she died. He also used them to show Zumot and Schipsi’s phones appeared to be together as he drove down to a domestic violence class in San Jose and back up to Palo Alto about 45 minutes before the fire, and to show Zumot had tampered with her phone.
Witnesses who Gillingham put on the stand had testified Schipsi told them Zumot hit and threatened to kill her. One witness testified Schipsi said Zumot not only threatened to kill her, but also burn down her home.
Zumot testified he had never made any such threats and Schipsi overreacted and lied. He portrayed himself as “easygoing” and contended he didn’t have Schipsi’s iPhone on the day of her death or delete messages from it and his iPhone to cover his tracks.
When Zumot first took the stand, he claimed he loved Schipsi and still does. At one point he broke into tears for at least two minutes after being shown a message from Schipsi saying she loved him and wanted to spend her whole life with him.
In attempting to prove Zumot was innocent, Geragos pointed out during the trial that traces of gasoline detected on Zumot’s clothing by an accelerant-sniffing dog were not confirmed by a crime lab. He said the cell phone evidence used to incriminate his client was worthless and that a tape showing Zumot and Schipsi having sex on the day she was found dead suggests the couple had reconciled following the previous evening’s fight.
Superior Court Judge David A. Cena, who presided over the trial, set an April 21 sentencing date for Zumot, who faces a prison term of 33 years to life.
Geragos said he intends to seek a new trial and if turned down will file an appeal.
After rejoicing with relatives for a few minutes outside the courtroom, Schipsi’s grandfather Philip Schipsi said the verdict will bring him some closure.
“I’m finally realizing what I’ve been putting off for a long time, and that is Jennifer is gone forever,” he said.
Philip Schipsi’s wife Peggy said of the verdict, “I knew it. I knew it. I can’t explain how happy I am that Jenny can rest peacefully now.”
But, she added, “our lives will never be the same. It’s something when you get up every morning and it’s the first thing you think about.”
Gillingham, who wasn’t in court Thursday, said in a telephone interview: “We knew we had the right person and we knew we had the evidence to convict him. So I’m not surprised by the verdict at all.”
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
7133 83462 37
his path of destiny / how he learns what he is here to learn = 37 = On-again, off-again relationships. Love/hate relationships. Domestic violence.
comprehensive summary and list of predictions for 2012:
learn numerology from numerologist to the world, Ed Peterson: