REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) — A San Francisco Bay Area heiress charged with murder in the death of her children’s father is wrongly accused of a crime committed by someone who plotted to kidnap him, her attorneys said Monday.
Prosecutors said in opening statements that Tiffany Li lured Keith Green to her Hillsborough mansion to discuss a custody dispute, where her boyfriend Kaveh Bayat fatally shot the victim in the mouth. The pair then hired a friend to dispose Green’s body and took steps to cover their crime by creating alibis for themselves, San Mateo County prosecutor Bryan Abanto said.
Li has pleaded not guilty. Her case drew national attention when Li, backed by the wealth her family made in real estate construction in China, posted an astonishing $35 million bail that allowed her to stay in her home pending trial.
Her co-defendant, who also has pleaded not guilty, remains in jail on $35 million bail.
Abanto told jurors he will present evidence that gunshot residue was found in the garage of Li’s house and Bayat’s DNA on a gun magazine. He said Green’s blood was found in Li’s Mercedes wagon and in a vehicle belonging to Olivier Adella, who he said dumped the victim’s body in a remote roadside area.
Investigators later found more than $35,000 in cash and Green’s designer watch hidden in a lunchbox at Adella’s apartment, he said.
After Green, 27, went missing, Abanto said Li told investigators she last saw him at a restaurant when cellphone data linked his whereabouts to her house.
“(Li and Green) had a contentious custody battle,” Abanto said. “As he kept asking for more money, she got angry. She told her friends ‘He’s just about the money, not about the kids.'”
The defense countered that Adella killed Green in a botched kidnap plot and said investigators overlooked crucial evidence in their quest to pin the crime on Li and Bayat.
Li and Green had already settled their custody dispute before he went missing, said defense attorney May Mar. She played a recording of a phone conversation where Li offered to fly the children to see their father when Green contemplated moving to Ohio.
“As soon as Keith went missing, fingers pointed at Tiffany,” Mar said. “They had a custody issue. It’s clear their relationship was not so contentious that she ever would have wanted him harmed or killed.”
She said detectives overlooked evidence such as Green’s blood found in the parking lot of Adella’s apartment building and signs Green may have struggled to free himself from the trunk from Adella’s vehicle. She also presented communications Adella made with two associates on “burner” cellphones commonly used to thwart investigators in the hours before the victim went missing.
Mar declined to discuss Adella’s motive because it hasn’t been presented to jurors.
The trial has been delayed several times, most recently when Adella, who was supposed to be a witness for the prosecution, was arrested earlier this month on charges of contacting an ex-girlfriend and witness for the defense.
Adella was expected to testify that the pair asked him to dispose of Green’s body.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said prosecutors now will not call Adella as a witness. A call seeking comment from Adella’s lawyer about the defense’s allegations has not been returned.
Last year the trial was delayed when Li was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and underwent aggressive treatment, said her lead attorney, Geoff Carr. The cancer is in remission.
Green and Li met around 2009. He was a high school football star from a blue-collar neighborhood while Li was rich and educated.
Green’s body was found along a dirt road north of San Francisco nearly two weeks after he had been last seen meeting with Li to discuss custody of their children.