Palo Alto Hookah Bar Owner Gets 33 Years For Girlfriend’s Murder

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36-year-old Bulos Zumot is accused of setting a fire on October 15, 2009 which killed his girlfriend Jennifer Schipsi. (Palo Alto Police)

36-year-old Bulos Zumot is accused of setting a fire on October 15, 2009 which killed his girlfriend Jennifer Schipsi. (Palo Alto Police)

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Minutes before he was sentenced Friday to 33 years in prison, Bulos ‘Paul’ Zumot shouted over and over “I’m innocent” and made every effort to convince a packed courtroom that he did not strangle his girlfriend and then set her body on fire at their Palo Alto cottage two years ago.

When Judge David Cena finally handed down the sentence around 3 p.m., Zumot—the 38-year-old owner of Da Hookah Spot in Palo Alto who in February was convicted of first-degree murder and arson in the Oct. 15, 2009 death of 29-year-old real estate agent Jennifer Schipsi—could not bear to sit through it.

“I did not kill Jennifer! I am innocent and I refuse to be here,” Zumot yelled, interrupting a speech by Schipsi’s father, Jim, who carried on reading from his letter and raised his voice over Zumot’s into a microphone that a bailiff handed him.

The two men got into a brief shouting match and at one point Jim Schipsi called Zumot a “monster” and Zumot retorted, “You’re the monster.”

“Shame on all of you,” Zumot yelled as bailiffs escorted him out of the courtroom per his own request following a 20-minute outburst that moved many of Schipsi’s family and friends to tears and shocked mostly everyone in the courtroom, including Cena.

Zumot and his mother, who was also thrown out for speaking out, refused to return for the sentencing.

“That was a unique experience, but I’m not altogether surprised that he would react that way,” prosecutor Chuck Gillingham told reporters afterward. “That was all gamesmanship—to have him be in charge. But he didn’t have the control, the judge did.”

Zumot made a last-ditch effort to postpone the sentencing, telling Cena that he fired his high-profile attorney Mark Geragos last month for failing to prove his innocence and requested that the court appoint him a new attorney. Cena told him he had time to hire a new attorney and that his reasons were not good enough to delay his sentencing.

Tina Glandian, an attorney who is part of Geragos’ defense team, affirmed that her team is no longer representing Zumot and told Cena that they have prepared a motion for a new trial but that Zumot’s family requested that they not file it.

Friday’s sentencing was the culmination of a case that began two years ago at a cottage on Addison Avenue in Palo Alto. That’s where prosecutors said Zumot killed Schipsi and then set their home on fire with her body inside to hide the evidence.

During the four-and-a-half-week trial, Gillingham relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, such as heated text message exchanges between the couple, to show that Zumot was emotionally and physically abusive toward Schipsi.

Geragos attempted unsuccessfully to discredit many key aspects of the prosecution’s case, including the detection of accelerant on Zumot’s clothes by a trained dog named Rosie, a fight between the couple on the night before Schipsi’s death, and cell phone data that, according to expert witnesses, showed Zumot and Schipsi’s phones traveled together on the day of her death.

Zumot was sentenced to 25 years to life for first-degree murder and eight years for aggravated arson. He is eligible for parole.

Jim Schipsi said Friday was a step back in the healing process for the family.

“I’m just glad that this is finally over,” he said. “I’m glad that he’s going to pay for his crime.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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