Nima Momeni, the man charged with stabbing Cash App founder Bob Lee to death with a kitchen knife on a San Francisco street, pleaded not guilty Wednesday.
Momeni appeared in court wearing an orange jumpsuit, flanked by his attorney Paula Canny. Judge Victor Hwang denied Momeni bail and ruled he would be held in custody until his next preliminary hearing.
Momeni retained Canny to represent him prior to his arrest, the San Francisco District Attorney, Brooke Jenkins, confirmed Thursday morning. Mission Local reported that Canny refused to confirm when she was hired, saying it would “open a can of worms.”
Friends and family of Bob Lee lined one side of the courtroom, while Momeni’s mother, Mahnaz Momeni, and sister, Khazar Elyssiana sat on the other.
Prosecutor Omid Talai argued that Momeni should be denied bail because the stabbing was “premeditated.”
Talai said Momeni drove Lee in the opposite direction to his hotel, towards a secluded area under a bridge where he stabbed Lee three times. “He then tossed the knife and fled,” Talai said.
Police immediately sent the knife for testing for DNA, Talai said, and the handle of that knife matched Momeni.
“Importantly, the handle of that knife shows that Bob Lee’s DNA was not on that handle,” Talai said, arguing the attack was not self-defense. Instead, he continued, an analysis found Lee’s DNA as all over the blood-soaked blade.
Talai said the brand of the kitchen knife matched others that Momeni’s sister had in her apartment in the Millennium Tower.
“This wasn’t done by accident, this was done violently,” Talai told the court.
Canny, Momeni’s attorney, said the prosecution’s version of events was “not accurate.” She conceded the two men had argued during the car journey, and that Lee had asked Momeni to pull over so that he could get an Uber. She said that while Momeni’s DNA might be on the knife, that did not mean he had intended to kill Lee.
“My client is the one who threw the knife over to protect himself and make sure no one else had access to that knife,” she said. “My client had no idea Bob Lee was mortally wounded.”
Speaking after the hearing, Canny said she would argue that what happened was a combination of accident and self-defense, and was not premeditated.
“This has never been a ‘whodunnit?’ It’s a ‘what happened?’” she continued.
Canny criticized the San Francisco Police Department, saying they had failed to interview Momeni, or his sister Khazar, in the nine days following the crime, despite knowing who was involved hours after the crime.
“I’m going to figure out why basic police steps weren’t done in this case,” she said.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins pushed back on Canny’s comments.
“The police cannot simply move in and arrest someone right away with accumulating enough evidence to charge,” Jenkins said after Momeni’s court appearance. “During that nine days they had to make investigative decisions on who they interviewed.”
“Everyone, including my client, is heartbroken that Bob Lee died,” Canny said, describing Momeni as “a loving son, a devoted brother, a loyal friend.
Momeni is accused of attacking Lee following an argument over Lee’s involvement with his sister, according to prosecutors, but they have not revealed much about the connection between the two men.
Friends of Lee’s told the Wall Street Journal this week he was part of an underground party scene and had been casually sleeping with Momeni’s young sister Khazar, the glamorous wife of a prominent San Francisco plastic surgeon. Three years earlier, friends say, Lee also dated a woman who had formerly dated Momeni.
“He was also hanging out with people who weren’t great people, and that was part of what happened in the end,” Lee’s friend Dana Wagner told the newspaper. “There are a lot of swingers, cheaters and liars in that crowd.”
On April 3, Lee spent the afternoon with Khasar Momeni at a house party, sources told the Journal. Later that evening Nima Momeni approached Lee and asked “whether his sister was doing drugs or anything inappropriate,” according to court records. Lee told Momeni that “nothing inappropriate had happened,” the records say.
In the early hours of April 4, authorities say, Momeni picked Lee up from Millennium Tower, a downtown high-rise where his sister Khasar lives. Momeni drove Lee to a secluded street in RIncon Hill, where he stabbed him three times, before driving away, police say. Lee called 911 and desperately sought help as he bled out, eventually collapsing on the sidewalk, according to court records.
A week after the killing, authorities unlocked Lee’s phone and found a text message from his sister, in which Elyassnia said, “I know nima came wayyyyyy down hard on you And thank you for being such a classy man handling it with class.”
At a brief court appearance two weeks ago, Canny commented on Lee’s autopsy results, saying he was like a “Walgreens of recreational drugs” at the time of his death. The autopsy report showed Lee had cocaine and ketamine in his system at the time of his death on April 4.
““There’s a lot of drugs in Bob Lee’s system,” Canny said of the medical examiner’s report. “[People on drugs] make bad decisions.”
Following Momeni’s arraignment, Canny again apologized for the “insensitive” comments, which were slammed by district attorney Brooke Jenkins.
Friends of Momeni told Mission Local last week that he was also a heavy drug user, using cocaine almost daily. Before his arrest, Momeni’s drug use was affecting his IT consultancy business, a friend told the outlet, describing the company as a “hilarious shitshow.”
Momeni was “super into weapons,” and had guns and knives in his apartment, a neighbor told The Daily Beast following his arrest. Sources told Mission Local Momeni owned several “ghost guns,” untraceable weapons that can be bought online and made at home. Canny, his attorney, said the police found nothing of “evidentiary value” in a search of his apartment.
Momeni behaved strangely in the days following the killing, a neighbor of his told The Daily Beast. Momeni suggested the neighbor travel with him to Colombia, and began offering to give away some of his expensive possessions, including a valuable Eames chair.
Exclusive footage obtained by The Daily Beast captured Momeni’s arrest by San Francisco police at his converted warehouse home in the East Bay in the early hours of April 13.