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Bob Lee’s alleged killer can get a fair trial in San Francisco, judge rules

A drawing of a man in court.
A courtroom sketch portrays Nima Momeni during the preliminary trial at San Francisco Superior Court on July 31, 2023. | Source: Vicki Behringer

Nima Momeni will be tried for murder just over a mile from where prosecutors say he stabbed tech executive Bob Lee to death with a kitchen knife nearly a year ago. 

A San Francisco judge ruled Friday that the case, which has exposed the private lives of a tech executive, the wife of a prominent plastic surgeon and their partying lifestyle, can be held in the city in an unbiased fashion. 

“A change of venue is not warranted, and the defendant can get a fair trial here,” ruled Judge Eric Fleming. 

Momeni’s attorneys had tried to convince the judge that he could only get a fair trial miles away from San Francisco, where they say unfair media coverage—including a photo of Momeni in his jail cell—and a large tech worker community would have made a fair trial impossible.

Lead defense attorney Saam Zangeneh argued in court Friday that a local survey of potential jurors showed that the jury pool has become biased due to unfair media coverage. 

"Social media already found him guilty,” Zangeneh said of one aspect of the media’s impact on his client. "This makes it hard to have an objective opinion.”

“If you don't have an opinion once you get to the bottom of this survey, how can you not have an opinion?”

Judge Eric Fleming

But Fleming’s ruling undercut a number of arguments gleaned from the findings of a survey of potential jurors conducted by the defense team. The judge’s ruling found that while Lee may be known in Silicon Valley, San Francisco is a different place and Lee is not a celebrity here. He also said that most of the coverage of the case cited by the defense happened soon after the killing almost a year ago and that “time dims all memory.” Finally, he said that San Francisco's population guarantees a large pool of unbiased jurors. 

The 100-person survey asked a series of questions about media coverage and its impacts on the respondents’ opinions of Lee and Momeni. Many of the survey’s questions specifically asked if readers had paid attention to the case’s coverage in The Standard and whether images published by the organization of Momeni in jail impacted their views of the accused. 

Nearly 50% said they read The Standard, but only 13% said they had seen the images of Momeni in jail. 

Seventy-seven percent of respondents said that they had read about the case, and 86% said they had heard of Lee’s killing. Seventy-three percent said they had opinions about both victim and defendant, with 20% saying they thought Momeni was guilty and 70% that he was probably guilty. 

“If you don't have an opinion once you get to the bottom of this survey, how can you not have an opinion?” Fleming said in an aside, which prosecutors said was a sign he thought that many of the questions were designed to lead to a conclusion.  

Three men stand in a hallway
Saam Zangeneh, center, a lawyer for Nima Momeni, speaks with Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai, right, outside the courtroom in San Francisco on Jan. 25, 2024. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Prosecutors, who have argued that the case was so widely covered there is no location where the jury pool had not read about it, made their own new arguments against the survey and the motion for a change of venue. 

Prosecutors said the methodology was at issue. For instance, the survey only included 10% Asian respondents in a city whose population is a third Asian. The prosecution also pointed out that the survey was advertised in places where people who are internet-savvy are most likely to become participants, therefore leaving out a large potential jury pool. 

The jury trial start date is set for April 20, but the actual opening arguments are not expected to start until after that date due to issues with extracting data from two of Lee’s cellphones. 

A photo of a woman in glasses and a man.
Nima Momeni and MobileCoin CTO Bob Lee, right, were allegedly in a dispute over Momeni’s sister Khazar Momeni, left. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard; Drew Altizer Photography

Momeni, who has been charged with murder, is accused of stabbing the 44-year-old Lee under the Bay Bridge on April 4 over a dispute involving Momeni’s sister, Khazar. 

From the start, the case has been characterized by bombastic rhetoric, big personalities and intense media coverage. 

Lee was the chief product officer of MobileCoin at the time of his death, and he had previously served as the CTO of Square, where he was known for his work developing the mobile money transfer platform Cash App.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at

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