Nima Momeni, the man charged with murder in the April stabbing death of tech executive Bob Lee, pleaded not guilty in a San Francisco courtroom Thursday as dueling narratives between the defense and prosecution began to play out.
It was revealed Thursday that Momeni was not a U.S. citizen, and Momeni's attorney, Paula Canny, said that he was at risk of deportation. "If I don’t defend this case, he’s going to be deported back to Iran," Canny said.
Lee, the 43-year-old chief product officer of MobileCoin and founder of Cash App, was stabbed to death April 4 near the foot of the Bay Bridge. Prosecutors say he and Momeni had an argument over Momeni's sister hours before the pair drove to a location near Main and Harrison streets, where they allege the suspect stabbed Lee three times with a kitchen knife.
Lee died hours later at the hospital. Police did not arrest Momeni until more than a week later.
Speaking outside the courtroom Thursday, Momeni’s attorney characterized Lee's death as part self-defense and part accident and said the case “has never been a 'who done it.' It has always been a 'what happened.'”
Canny argued in a filing earlier in the week that the suspect should be released with conditions, saying he was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
Prosecutors argued that he was a flight risk both because of his financial means and connection to another country and because he would be a danger to the community.
Judge Victor Hwang said that while Momeni did not appear to be a flight risk, he could pose a threat to the community and ruled that Momeni remain in jail without bail.
Momeni, who prosecutors say continues to refuse to speak with police, came to the U.S. from Iran with his sister and mother in 1999; his exact immigration status was not revealed in court.
While Momeni is not a U.S. citizen, his sister Khazar Momeni, who has also refused to speak with police about the events that led to Lee’s death, is a citizen registered to vote in San Francisco.
Both the defense and the prosecution argued Thursday over how to interpret the evidence collected by police—in particular, the knife used to kill Lee.
Omid Talai, the case’s prosecutor, said the fatal stabbing was premeditated and that Momeni took a kitchen knife from his sister’s home and used it to kill Lee at a secluded location. He said the DNA evidence clearly links Momeni to the knife, and that it was the same brand that his sister Khazar Momeni uses in her home, indicating that the killing was premeditated.
“The handle of that knife came back to one person: the defendant,” Talai said, before attacking Canny’s claim that the stabbing was in self-defense.
Canny insisted that it was "unclear which person took this tiny little paring knife from the apartment.”
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected]