Mission Local has learned that Nima Momeni, the alleged killer of tech executive Bob Lee, lawyered up days prior to his April 13 arrest for murder, apparently in preparation for a legal battle to come.
Attorney Paula Canny declined to confirm when she was hired to represent Momeni, saying that it would “open a can of worms.”
Canny was at Momeni’s side on Thursday morning during an arraignment and entered a “not guilty” plea for her client. She also asked the judge to release Momeni from custody, saying he did not pose a flight risk or danger to others.
Her motion was rejected, and Momeni remains detained. His past three scheduled arraignments had been postponed.
Momeni was charged with murder last month for the stabbing death of Lee, who founded the popular Cash App and was an executive at Square and MobileCoin. The two men were together earlier in the night, and Momeni had allegedly confronted Lee about what he had done with his sister, Khazar Momeni, according to a court filing from the district attorney.
In a motion filed on Monday, Canny opposed the district attorney’s motion to keep Momeni in jail, and raised questions about the case against her client, noting that he did not flee in the nine days before police arrested him for Lee’s killing.
But in that same period, Momeni had apparently moved to hire a top criminal defense attorney, who in turn hired private investigator Brian Hedley. In a press conference after this morning’s arraignment, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins also said that she believed Momeni had retained Canny as his attorney prior to his arrest.
Hiring a private investigator is standard, Canny said, pointing to fictional criminal defense lawyers Matlock and Perry Mason and their investigators.
And Momeni hiring a lawyer early on in this situation is not necessarily unusual.
Several criminal defense attorneys told Mission Local that hiring an attorney and using a private investigator is normal, and even advised, for someone in Momeni’s situation; that is, someone who had seen Lee the night of his killing and would likely be interrogated, if not arrested, as a potential suspect.
“Attorneys consult people who are just simply witnesses, people who may be ancillary to incidents,” said criminal defense attorney Rebecca Feigelson.
Prosecutors say Momeni can be seen on surveillance cameras leaving Millenium Tower with Lee shortly before the stabbing in Momeni’s BMW convertible, and that shadowy figures that appear to be Momeni and Lee can be seen together near a car resembling the BMW convertible just before Lee stumbles around the street looking for help.
Brian Getz, a criminal defense attorney, said it would be “routine” to find a lawyer in Momeni’s situation and even to use a private investigator.
“It seems like identity is not the issue in this case, the issue is the state of mind of the defendant,” Getz said. “He would have known that it was only a matter of time before he would be confronted by law enforcement, and I think that it is logical and normal that he would obtain counsel and obtain private investigators.”
“I get calls all the time from folks who believe they are about to be indicted or arrested,” said another defense attorney, Christopher Morales.
Canny, additionally, confirmed that Momeni’s phone was not in his possession at the time of his arrest.
“The cops are just mad that when they came to arrest him, he didn’t have his cell phone,” she said.
Momeni’s phone would likely contain “super important evidence for the police,” Morales said. “Because they want to see who he was texting or calling the day of the murder, because that could be really powerful evidence for the prosecutor.”
If Momeni or others were aware that a criminal investigation was underway and destroyed evidence, that could be a problem, said criminal defense attorney John Hamasaki, noting that destruction-of-evidence charges could follow. But, he said, “that’s probably the least of his concerns.”
It is still unclear what, if anything, was done with Momeni’s phone in the nine days between Lee’s killing in the early morning of April 4 and Momeni’s arrest on April 13. After his arrest, his phone was turned over to the police, according to Canny.
Since he remained in his Emeryville home during that time, however, Canny maintains he is not a flight risk and should not be in jail.
Family has counsel as well
The rest of Momeni’s family and other ancillary witnesses have also lawyered up.
His mother, Mahnaz Tayarani Babai, is represented by well-known criminal defense attorney Randy Knox, who she hired after her son’s arrest. And Momeni’s sister and brother-in-law, Khazar Momeni and Dino Elyassnia, are, according to multiple sources, represented by Ed Swanson and Mary McNamara. It is unclear when they were hired.