Defense attorneys for Nima Momeni, the man accused of murdering Cash App founder Bob Lee, attempted on Monday to cast doubt on the motive for the murder and on crime scene evidence.
But San Francisco prosecutors presented surveillance camera footage of Momeni and Lee driving away in Momeni’s white BMW, and the pair exiting the white BMW near the scene where Lee was found unconscious a half hour later. The two men, in blurry camera footage, appear to stand on the street for a short time, before Momeni flees the scene in his car and Lee walks away and begins to bleed out.
Today was the first day of a preliminary hearing in which both sides will present evidence. It is expected to end Tuesday, and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harry Dorfman will then decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a full trial.
Momeni appeared in court in his typical orange jumpsuit in Monday, accompanied by a four-person legal team.
Lee, 43, was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of April 4. He was found bleeding out on Main Street near Harrison Street, in Rincon Hill. Momeni, 38, an IT consultant and acquaintance who had left a party with Lee earlier that evening, has been charged with murder for the killing.
Momeni’s attorneys did not attack surveillance footage of the attack head-on, but instead questioned police and investigators over the handling of the alleged murder weapon, and their decision not to question a homeless man at the scene of Lee’s death.
The defense attorneys also introduced a new wrinkle into the prosecution’s story of the killing.
Prosecutors previously suggested that Momeni killed Lee in a premeditated attack, after demanding to know if anything “inappropriate” had happened while Lee was spending time with Momeni’s younger sister, Khazar Momeni.
On Monday afternoon, defense attorneys disputed the narrative that Momeni might have killed Lee over his potential relationship with Khazar Momeni. Instead, they argued today, Momeni was concerned about his sister’s relationship with another man, Jeremy Boivin.
Both Lee and Momeni spent time with Boivin earlier on the day before the murder, a police investigator said. The defense argued today that Boivin had a romantic relationship with Khazar Momeni.
Fingerprints vs. DNA
Momeni’s four attorneys used much of their time on Monday picking apart testimony from the prosecutors’ witnesses and their handling of a knife found at the scene — the alleged murder weapon — saying that police had never fingerprinted it.
Officer Rosalyn Check, a crime scene investigator who processed the murder scene and testified in today’s preliminary hearing, said she did not check the knife found on the scene for fingerprints, because its rubber handle made fingerprinting nearly impossible. Instead, she swabbed the handle for DNA.
Prosecutors have alleged that Momeni’s DNA was on the handle and Lee’s DNA, in the form of blood, was on the blade. Prosecutors have also laid out a timeline of the killing, saying Momeni planned Lee’s murder by grabbing a 3.5-inch kitchen knife from his sister’s home, driving Lee to a “dark and secluded” area in Rincon Hill, south of the Financial District, and stabbing him multiple times before fleeing the scene.
Dispute over sister
Surveillance camera footage from Millenium Tower shows Lee and Momeni leaving together and entering Momeni’s white BMW, shortly before Lee was stabbed on April 4.
The prosecution illustrated its case that Lee and Khazar Momeni were involved by presenting a text message that Khazar Momeni sent Lee after he left her home with her brother: “Just wanted to make sure your doing ok Cause I know nima came wayyyyyy down hard on you And thank you for being such a classy man handling it with class Love you Selfish pricks.”
Nima Momeni, according to witness accounts, had also called and questioned Lee about whether anything inappropriate had happened with his sister, who is married.
In his cross-examination of SFPD Sgt. Brent Dittmer, lead defense attorney Saam Zangeneh asked whether Nima Momeni’s Facetime call to Lee later that day, about whether anything “inappropriate” had happened, was actually about what Boivin had done with his sister — not Lee. The conversation was allegedly overheard by a witness.
Dittmer agreed it appeared that way.
Dittmer said he interviewed witnesses who had been partying with Lee, Khazar Momeni, and Boivin during the morning and afternoon of April 3. They told him Lee had left Boivin’s house with a friend early on in the afternoon.
A female witness — who arrived at Boivin’s house around the time Lee left — told Dittmer that she passed out there for some time, and woke up to Khazar Momeni crying and wearing a different outfit. Boivin, she said, was “fawning over” Khazar.
Zangeneh asked whether Khazar and Boivin may have had a romantic relationship. Dittmer said “yes.”
Drugs, ‘ghost guns,’ abuse
Zangeneh also tried to delve into Boivin’s criminal history of drug arrests and sodomy charges, but prosecutor Omid Talai objected, arguing it was irrelevant; Judge Dorfman agreed.
Momeni, according to friends and acquaintances, had a serious drug addiction, owned several “ghost guns” and knives, and had abused several women. Others described him as a kind and loving family man, and a successful entrepreneur.
Zangeneh said later that he was trying to prove that Momeni had no premeditation or motive to kill Lee, and that the prevalent “honor killing” narrative was inaccurate.
“If you can’t prove those, then guess what — you don’t have a murder,” Zangeneh said Monday afternoon of the first-degree murder charge Momeni faces. His team said they expect the preliminary hearing to conclude on Tuesday.
‘Concerns’ over crime scene evidence
Zangeneh, a celebrity attorney from Florida who took over Momeni’s case from his first attorney, said he also had “concerns” about the way SFPD handled the evidence at the crime scene.
“Usually, when you want to see if someone’s touching something, you want fingerprint evidence,” Zangeneh said in the hallway after the morning’s court testimony. He did not answer the allegation of his client’s DNA being found on the knife.
The knife was allegedly made by the British brand Joseph Joseph, the same brand as those in the kitchen of Momeni’s sister, who lives in Millennium Tower. Prosecutors allege that Momeni and Lee left the home of Momeni’s sister together, and that Momeni stabbed Lee on the street nearby.
Check also said that she found blood droplets on the sidewalk on the west side of Main Street, which had trailed from the east side of the block. Blood had also been smeared in an arch on a wall, as well as on the call box in front of the Portside apartments at 403 Main St.
Lee was seen on surveillance camera footage in front of the apartment complex, staggering and trying to call for help after his apparent stabbing.
“He was bleeding uncontrollably from the chest and the hip,” said Hood, who arrived on the scene the night of Lee’s stabbing. Hood testified first in court on Monday and explained that the alleged murder weapon, the Joseph Joseph knife, was found at the scene behind a locked gate at a Caltrans parking lot.
Alongside the DNA evidence, Momeni’s attorneys attempted to cast doubt on the prosecution’s story by pointing to a homeless man who had been laying on the ground just 40 feet away, on the same block of Main Street where Lee was found bleeding to death.
“He didn’t give a clear, rational statement of why he was where he was,” said SFPD Officer Cedric Hood, another witness called to testify on Monday. Hood was one of the responding officers who arrived around 2:30 a.m. on April 4 to find Lee unresponsive and help render aid.
Officer Check, the crime scene investigator, said other pieces of evidence, including a small bag used for drugs, were found in the street, among items that may have belonged to Lee. A popsocket for a phone was found with blood on it, she said, as was a vape, some chocolate, and two latex gloves that were not entered into evidence.
Defense attorneys also pointed to “suspect white powder” found in Lee’s hotel room at the nearby One Hotel, apparently suggesting the drug bag belonged to Lee. Meanwhile, prosecutor Talai implied the drugs may not have been Lee’s, as the neighborhood where the bag was found is one where drugs are commonplace.