REDWOOD CITY (CBS SF/AP) — The murder trial of Chinese real estate heiress Tiffany Li got underway Monday with two very different versions of the 2016 murder of her boyfriend being presented to the jury.
Prosecutors portray the Hillsborough socialite as a cheating girlfriend who plotted with her new boyfriend to kill Keith Green, her ex- and the father of their two girls, because he wanted too much money for child support.
San Mateo Deputy District Attorney Bryan Abanto told jurors he will present evidence that Li, whose family in China has made a fortune in real estate construction, lured Green to her chateau-style mansion in 2016 to discuss the children, where her new boyfriend Kaveh Bayat forced a gun into Green’s mouth, breaking a tooth, and pulled the trigger.
Abanto said Li and Bayat then hired Bayat’s friend Olivier Adella to dispose of Green’s body, which was eventually found decomposing off the side of a road in Sonoma County, and took steps to cover their crime by creating alibis for themselves. Investigators later found more than $35,000 in cash and Green’s watch hidden in a lunchbox at Adella’s apartment, he said.
After Green, 27, went missing, Abanto said Li told investigators she last saw him at a restaurant when cellphone data linked his whereabouts to her house.
Prosecutors were not available for comment but defense lawyers said it was Adella who murdered Green in a botched kidnapping attempt, claiming prosecutors ignored evidence pointing to Adella.
“The prosecution is prosecuting a case, but they have the wrong people on trial,” said John May, Bayat’s attorney.
Li sat nearly motionless throughout the day.
Adella had agreed to plead guilty to accessory to murder, and was to be the prosecution’s star witness, but he was arrested for alleged witness tampering on the eve of the trial.
That could make the prosecution’s case entirely circumstantial.
“The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that it was Mr. Adella, in the company of others such as those we named in our opening statement, and the evidence is lacking as it relates to Tiffany Li,” said May Mar, Li’s attorney.
Li and Bayat are being tried together in a murder case prosecutors admit will hinge on highly technical cell phone records that tie the defendants and the
victim to the alleged murder scene in Hillsborough.
“Evidence will show she very much wanted (Green) in their lives, in their daughters’ lives, together as parents,” Mar said.
A jury of 10 women and six men plus four alternates will determine Li and Bayat’s fate.
Adella was expected to testify that the pair asked him to dispose of Green’s body.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said prosecutors now will not call Adella as a witness.
Last year the trial was delayed when Li was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and underwent aggressive treatment, said her lead attorney, Geoff Carr. The cancer is in remission.
Green and Li met around 2009 when he was 21 and she was 23. He was a high school football star from a blue-collar neighborhood while Li was rich and educated.
Green’s body was found along a dirt road north of San Francisco nearly two weeks after he had been last seen meeting with Li to discuss custody of their children.
Li posted an astonishing $35 million bail that has allowed her to stay in her home pending trial. It was based on the prosecutors fears that she was a flight risk.
She was also ordered to surrender her passport to make it difficult to flee the country.
“She’s been under house arrest effectively for over two years,” said Carr. “She’s actually a little agoraphobic being in there for so long. She’s more comfortable indoors somewhat.”
The 31-year-old is backed by a group that raised $4 million cash and pledged $62 million in San Francisco Bay Area property. California courts require twice the bail amount if property is used instead of cash.
Li also has been on round-the-clock electronic monitoring.