Key witness in Hillsborough heiress murder case arrested, trial delayed again – The Mercury News
REDWOOD CITY — On the day attorneys were supposed to make their opening statements in the murder trial of a wealthy Hillsborough real estate heiress and her boyfriend, the trial’s start was pushed back and a key prosecution witness wound up in handcuffs.
The prosecution witness, who was not expected to appear at the hearing, was arrested for using Instagram to contact a witness for the defense.
Now prosecutors say they might not call the witness, a former co-defendant whose testimony was expected to be an important piece of their case against Tiffany Li and her boyfriend, Kaveh Bayat, to the stand.
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It was a fitting false start for the trial in a case that has been marked by delays and dramatic twists over the nearly three-and-a-half years since the body of 27-year-old Keith Green was found shot to death along a dirt road in Sonoma County.
San Mateo County authorities allege that Li had Bayat kill Green on the night of April 28, 2016, because she feared she would lose a custody battle over the two children she had with Green.
Attorneys for Li, 33, and Bayat, 32, say their clients had nothing to do with Green’s murder.
The prosecution was set to begin presenting evidence to the jury Thursday morning, with the joint trial of Li and Bayat expected to last into November. The jury, which includes four alternates, is made up of 10 women and six men.
But before a packed courtroom at the San Mateo County courthouse in Redwood City, Judge Robert Foiles pushed the start of the trial back to Tuesday. He then read the jurors a set of preliminary instructions, and recessed the trial until the afternoon.
Li did not speak as she entered court with her attorneys Thursday morning. She has been out of custody and effectively on house arrest since spring 2017, when she posted one of the highest bail amounts on record in the United States: a $66 million portfolio of cash and real estate assets raised by her family and friends.
Family members crowded the standing-room-only gallery, including Li’s mother, who followed the proceedings with the help of a Mandarin interpreter.
Li and Bayat sat behind their attorneys, Li in a black jacket, black slacks and a blue blouse and Bayat in a dark blue suit, white shirt and thick-rimmed black glasses. The bottom of Li’s right pant leg bulged, partially revealing the ankle monitor she must wear as a condition of her bail.
With the jurors out of the courtroom, attorneys for Li said they had uncovered evidence that Olivier Adella — who was expected to testify that Li and Bayat came to him the night Green was murdered and asked him to get rid of Green’s body — had created an Instagram account to contact a defense witness.
Adella had reached a plea deal to testify against his former co-defendants in exchange for a reduced charge. He was released from jail last fall after pleading no contest to the lesser charge of being an accessory to murder.
Defense attorneys have characterized Adella as an unreliable witness who cut a deal to get out of jail. In one court filing, they suggested that Adella may have been the one who killed Green.
After Adella’s arrest Thursday, San Mateo County District Attorney Steven Wagstaffe said prosecutors have not decided whether they will still call him to the stand as a witness.
“Prior to Tuesday there will be decisions made,” Wagstaffe said.
The witness Adella was accused of contacting was his ex-girlfriend, a woman that defense attorneys allege he physically abused. Li’s attorney, Geoffrey Carr, said the woman had not heard from Adella in years, but he messaged her saying that he knew she was working with the defense.
“We were having difficulty convincing her to come because she was already afraid of him,” Carr said.
Prosecutors said the messages violated an order from Foiles prohibiting witnesses from discussing the case or contacting other witnesses. They also violated the terms of Adella’s release from jail, which barred him from using social media.
An attorney for Adella, Dek Ketchum, said the messages were the result of “bad judgment,” but asked Foiles not to take Adella into custody.
“They never had a conversation about the case,” Ketchum told Foiles, and Adella never sought to discourage her from testifying.
Foiles ordered Adella taken into custody without bail at the end of the brief hearing, and told attorneys to return to court Monday for hearings on trial motions.