The murder trial of Nima Momeni, the alleged killer of tech executive Bob Lee, has been set for March 15 in San Francisco, but defense attorneys on Thursday asked a judge to move the trial out of the city, citing the "prejudicial" publication of photos of Momeni in jail.
Momeni appeared in court beside his legal team, which includes San Francisco lawyer Tony Brass and two Florida attorneys, Saam Zangeneh and Bradford Cohen. Momeni’s mother was also in court for the hearing, where she raised her hands in the shape of a heart after her handcuffed son came into the room.
Zangeneh filed a motion to change venue because he said his client could not receive a fair trial due to unfair media coverage, including the recent publication by The Standard of photos of Momeni in his jail cell.
"There was a photographer that went into the jail, and that photographer was allegedly there to take pictures of solitary confinements,” Cohen said. “In my 27 years, I’ve never seen a photographer go into a jail with a camera and start taking pictures of a defendant before trial. It is highly prejudicial.”
Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi set a hearing regarding the motion for a change of venue for Jan. 25.
Prosecutors have alleged that Momeni drove Lee, the Cash App founder, to a secluded street under the Bay Bridge in the early morning hours of April 4 and stabbed him twice with a kitchen knife, leading to his death hours later in a hospital.
Momeni has been charged with murder and has been held at San Francisco’s jail in San Bruno since mid-April. Photos of Momeni in his cell published by The Standard this week revealed that he has been reading books on psychology and Napoleon Bonaparte as he awaits trial.
Momeni’s attorneys were aware of the photos prior to publication, and refused to comment to The Standard about them. They did not request that they not be published.
Outside of court on Thursday morning, Zangeneh, the attorney, said Lee was a "local luminary" and noted that hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay Area work in the tech sector.
"It's kind of like, if a Los Angeles Laker is the victim of a homicide, do you think [his accused killer] could get a fair trial in L.A.?"
"A freelance photographer had permission to take photos inside the jail and Nima Momeni gave the photographer permission to have his photo taken. We contacted Momeni's legal team prior to publication, and they did not raise objections or concerns about the publication of the images," said The Standard's editor-in-chief, Julie Makinen. "The Standard believes the images were entirely newsworthy."
Who Will Testify at Trial?
Prosecutors have said Momeni was upset because Lee encouraged Momeni’s sister, Khazar Momeni, to do “inappropriate” things the day before at the home of Lee’s alleged drug dealer, Jeremy Boivin, according to court documents.
But Momeni’s attorneys have argued in filings that the facts of the case do not amount to a cold-blooded killing.
“It’s essential for us to give the complete story,” Brass said. “We are not trying to hide anything. If anything, we are trying to tell a complete story about how this incident occurred.”
Monday’s arrest of Khazar Momeni in San Francisco on suspicion of driving under the influence and hit-and-run brought more media attention to a family already under the spotlight.
The other expected witnesses, Brass said, include everyone who spent any time with Lee in the hours before his death. That would include Boivin, who witnesses said gave Khazar Momeni drugs the day before Lee was killed during a party at Boivin's apartment where Lee was present. The woman who called Khazar Momeni’s husband and brother to come and get her from the party could also testify.
“We are trying to establish the relationship between Bob and Boivin,” Brass said previously. “He’s the designer drug dealer to the stars.”
Brass said that once a date has been set, each side has to share their witnesses with each other.
Correction: This story has been updated to note the change-of-venue motion will be considered at a hearing Jan. 25.