The arraignment of Nima Momeni happened Thursday morning after five weeks and three separate delays requested by his attorney, and he entered a plea of not guilty to the April 4 stabbing of Cash App founder Bob Lee.
Despite what sounds like a preponderance of evidence against him, Momeni's defense attorney Paula Canny has come out swinging in the weeks since his April 13 arrest, calling out a toxicology report that showed Lee had cocaine and ketamine in his system, and calling the prosecution's case "art." She has further written in a court filing that, "The last time Momeni saw Lee he was walking upright."
And Momeni finally entered a plea Thursday in a brief hearing in which SF Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang also granted a motion to keep Momeni in custody without bail pending his trial, denying a counter motion from Canny to release him.
As KPIX reports, Judge Hwang said Momeni may not be a flight risk, however he did potentially pose a threat to the public.
We're now learning, via Mission Local, that Canny was hired ahead of Momeni's arrest — "up to days" ahead — and that Momeni's cellphone was missing when the SFPD came to arrest him on April 13, nine days after the stabbing.
"The cops are just mad that when they came to arrest him, he didn’t have his cell phone," Canny said, according to Mission Local, but it remains unclear whether the phone was purposely lost or destroyed — which could pose further trouble for Momeni.
Legal experts tell Mission Local that the hiring of Canny prior to the arrest is relatively normal, given that Momeni had seen Lee alive the previous day and knew he'd likely be questioned.
But the evidence extends to video that shows Momeni and Lee exiting Millennium Tower together a half hour before Lee was stabbed, and reportedly grainy footage that has not been released publicly that prosecutors say shows two figures underneath the Bay Bridge, dressed similarly to Momeni and Lee, engaged in something right at the time of the stabbing.
And a witness, apparently a friend who was in Lee's hotel room on the Embarcadero when he allegedly received a phone call from Momeni, who describes Momeni as upset about Lee's earlier encounter with Momeni's sister, Khazar Elyassnia. The timeline puts Lee arriving at Elyassnia's condo in Millennium Tower around 12:30 a.m., two hours before the stabbing, presumably to meet with her her and Momeni.
Momeni had allegedly questioned Lee about giving drugs to his sister, and "inappropriate" contact.
Much has been made of a text message police say they found on Lee's phone from Elyassnia, saying, "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."
The Wall Street Journal has also made a big deal out something called "The Lifestyle," which may or may not be a named thing that Lee and Elyassnia were apart of, which is described as a an "underground party scene featuring recreational drug use and casual sex." That phrase pretty much describes all Burning Man-adjacent social groups in the Bay Area, so it's questionable whether this is an actual thing Lee would say he was a part of — and his ex-wife, Krista Lee, has said she'd never heard of it.
The Journal also found out that Lee and Momeni had possibly dated the same woman in the last few years. And, one friend of Lee's tells the paper that friends had been concerned about him recently. "He was also hanging out with people who weren’t great people, and that was part of what happened in the end," said Dana Wagner, former general counsel of payments company Square, now Block. "There are a lot of swingers, cheaters and liars in that crowd."
Whether or not there was some organized Lifestyle contingent that Lee subscribed to may not matter. As one Redditor puts it, "I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some subset of those living the lifestyle who formed some exclusive group of folks to have ethical non-monogamous relationships, particularly among a wealthier group and the, ahem, prevailing attitudes of those in tech."
We should note there was some kind of party going on in a SoMa apartment involving drugs on a Monday afternoon — April 3 — that all these people were a part of. And that was not any kind of holiday.