A Palo Alto man facing murder charges for allegedly killing his girlfriend and setting fire to the bedroom of their home with her body inside pleaded not guilty in Santa Clara Superior Court Thursday afternoon.
About a dozen family members of both Bulos "Paul" Zumot, 36, and Jennifer Schipsi, 29, packed the courtroom appearing stern and distraught.
The owner of the Palo Alto smoking lounge Da Hookah Spot was arrested in October 2009 and charged with murder and arson following an examination by investigators of the home he shared with his real estate agent girlfriend at 969 Addison Ave.
On Oct. 15, firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire at the home and found Schipsi's body in the front bedroom, where investigators said the fire was started. An autopsy of Schipsi's body revealed that she had been murdered before the fire began.
The pair had an "on again, off again" relationship but had moved in together shortly before the fire, police said. Court records show that Schipsi requested an emergency restraining order against Zumot on Aug. 24 after he allegedly threatened her.
Zumot could face a maximum of 33 years to life if convicted, according to Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Amy Cornell.
Zumot appeared briefly in court wearing a red jumpsuit and an unperturbed expression while his attorney announced his plea.
Afterward, Schipsi's family gathered outside of the courtroom and talked quietly amongst themselves. Her father, Jim, said, "I'm glad that a plea was entered and we can move on with the case."
Schipsi's aunt, Dee Towner, said she, too, was happy that the case could now progress. She said the family had been holding vigils the night before every hearing until Zumot entered a plea.
Judge Jerome Nadler scheduled a bail motion hearing for Jan. 29 and a preliminary hearing for April 12.
Bay City News