The preliminary hearing for a man accused of killing his girlfriend and setting their bedroom on fire with her body inside is being held in Santa Clara County Superior Court with testimony from police.
Bulos "Paul" Zumot, 36, has pleaded not guilty to murder and arson charges in connection with the death of his 29-year-old girlfriend, Jennifer Schipsi, on Oct. 15, 2009.
A judge will determine during the hearing whether there is enough evidence for the case against Zumot to proceed to trial.
Investigators determined that Schipsi, a real estate agent, had been killed prior to the fire and that the blaze was set intentionally at the home, located at 969 Addison Ave., to conceal evidence.
Police arrested Zumot four days later at Da Hookah Spot, a smoking lounge he owns on University Avenue.
Zumot was denied bail and remains in custody. He faces a maximum sentence of 33 years to life if convicted.
In her testimony today, lead crime scene investigator Nanelle Newbom said that upon removing Schipsi's body the day after the fire, she noticed a strong gas-like odor emanating from the bed where the body was found.
She said she noticed the stove was still on and that she smelled gas in Schipsi's hair and on a duvet on a couch in the living room.
Anjanette Holler, a detective in the Police Department's sexual assault unit, testified that Schipsi's autopsy results indicated she was strangled prior to the fire and that there was no smoke in her lungs.
Zumot and Schipsi had an "on again, off again" relationship but had moved in together shortly before the fire, according to police. Court records show that Schipsi requested an emergency restraining order against Zumot in August after he allegedly threatened her.
Police Detective James Reifschneider said Fernando Alcoba, the instructor of a domestic violence class in San Jose that Zumot was enrolled in at the time of Schipsi's death, described the couple's relationship as being "like a roller coaster."
He said that it had improved, however, in the months prior to Schipsi's death, Reifschneider said.
Detective Holler said Schipsi's best friend was one of the last people to have contact with her before she died.
The friend said Schipsi failed to show up to take him to a doctor's appointment on Oct. 15, and his calls went directly to voicemail that morning.
When he sent a text message, Schipsi's response was a duplicate of a message from the previous night, Holler said.
Schipsi and Zumot appeared to have gotten into an altercation on Oct. 14 following a birthday celebration for Zumot at Dishdash Restaurant in Sunnyvale, according to police Capt. Scott Savage.
Zumot's business partner and former best friend, a Monterey County sheriff's deputy named Joe Martinez, said Zumot sent him a text message on Oct. 15 recounting the birthday party, according to Savage.
In one of the text messages, Zumot said he had told Schipsi to shut up and that she had then walked home alone.
Later that day, he sent Martinez another text message saying he had proposed to Schipsi, Savage said.
When Martinez spoke with Zumot on the phone later, he said Zumot said there was a fire at his home and seemed panicked. He sounded scared and concerned that he had not heard from Schipsi since that morning, according to Savage.
Schipsi also alluded to an argument or fight on Oct. 14 in text messages she sent to a mutual male friend who was invited to the birthday party but did not show up, Savage said.
In one message, she said, "Someone can (sic) handle me sending messages to you," followed by, "I just had my phone thrown at me."
Schipsi later spoke with that friend on the phone and told him that after the party, she was in the car with Zumot and his brother and that she left the car and walked the rest of the way home, Savage said.
The friend said he asked Schipsi why Zumot was upset with him the next morning after repeatedly calling Zumot and not hearing from him.
Schipsi responded that Zumot was drunk.
The preliminary hearing will continue Tuesday.
Bay City News