Nima Momeni pleaded not guilty to the murder of tech executive Bob Lee on Thursday morning, despite evidence allegedly placing Momeni’s DNA on the handle of the knife used to stab Lee, and Lee’s DNA on the blade.
“The handle of that knife came back to one person,” said prosecutor Omid Talai in court this morning, adding that Lee’s DNA was “all over the blade.”
Talai also said that the kitchen knife allegedly used to kill Lee was the same “unique brand” as the knives found in the home of Khazar Momeni, Nima Momeni’s sister, around whom the two men’s dispute may have centered — and where both men were visiting prior to Lee’s killing.
Momeni was arrested on April 13 for the murder of Lee, the founder of Cash App. The district attorney alleges the killing was premeditated and committed with the kitchen knife found near the scene of the stabbing.
The DA also alleges that Momeni had confronted Lee earlier in the day about his activity with his sister, Khazar, and that the two men had left Khazar’s home together shortly before the stabbing.
Momeni’s attorney, Paula Canny, said today that Momeni “had no idea that Bob Lee was mortally wounded” until the news was publicly disseminated upon his arrest.
She pointed to what she sees as missteps by the police department in handling the case, implying that Momeni’s involvement was never in question, but that investigators failed to arrest or question him and other witnesses early on. Instead, Canny said, the public was made to wait nine days to learn who had allegedly killed Lee.
“This was never a ‘whodunit?’ It was always a ‘what happened’” Canny said to a packed courtroom on Thursday.
“People can have a fight and not know that someone has been mortally wounded,” Canny added. She later called the stabbing a “a cross between self-defense and an accident.”
Surveillance video footage from that night shows Lee staggering in the deserted Rincon Hill neighborhood; he appears to try to flag down a car driving by.
Canny, however, said that Momeni and Lee walked away from each other “happy enough.”
Lee, Canny said, “walked away completely fine, walked at least a football field — over a football field” and talked to his Uber driver, presumably referring to a car in surveillance footage that Lee appears to try to flag down.
District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, in a press conference after today’s hearing, said that the nine days between the killing and the arrest was not a delay “in the grand scheme of things.” The decision not to interview Momeni, she said, was an investigative decision made by the police department.
The knife in question, which the DA’s office alleges had a four-inch blade, was used to inflict a five-inch-deep wound, prosecutor Talai said today — apparently referring to the exertion with which the knife was thrust at Lee.
“This isn’t done by accident, this is done violently. This is done with force,” Talai said.
Canny denied the prosecution’s version of events, including that the wound length exceeded four inches. She said Momeni’s DNA was on the knife because he was “the one who threw the knife over to make sure that no one had access” to it.
Members of Lee’s family could be seen shaking their heads at this statement.
Canny went on to call Momeni a “loving son, a devoted brother, a loyal friend, hard-working super-generous person” with no significant criminal history.
She argued that Momeni was not a flight risk, because although he is not an American citizen, his ties are to the Bay Area and his “only choice” is to stay. “He’s gonna be deported to Iran and what that means is he’s never gonna see the two people he loves the most again,” Canny said, referring to Momeni’s mother and sister.
After hearing lengthy arguments from both sides and reviewing “numerous” character reference letters from Momeni’s friends and family, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang denied Canny’s attempt to have him released from jail pending trial.
Canny entered the “not guilty” plea on his behalf, and said her client “denies each and every special allegation.”
Momeni did not waive his right to a speedy trial. On Friday morning, a preliminary hearing date will be set.