When the embers of the little cottage on Addison Avenue had burnt out, one question still burned bright: who killed Jennifer Schipsi and tried to hide the evidence by burning her body at the scene of the crime? This question led almost immediately to her boyfriend,  Bulos (Paul) Zumot, who faced charges of murder and arson. The details involved plot twists, turns, and drama worthy of a Netflix documentary. Zumot was forced to face his not so glamorous prior history of threats and domestic violence towards Schipsi, which didn’t exactly paint him as a sympathetic defendant, jury members recalled.

The murder occurred in 2009, conviction in 2010, appeal rejected in 2013, and a habeas corpus granted and retrial ordered several weeks ago. What new information came to light?

Bulos Zumot’s alibi was shaky in the initial trial. He claimed that at the time of the house fire he was at his business, the Hookah Lounge, a popular chill spot frequented by locals. Prosecution used surveillance video from the Hookah Lounge to prove to the jury he wasn’t there at the time he claimed.

NCAVF was brought into the case in 2013 and our work on the case continued on-and-off over many years. Our analysis helped to show the court that Zumot’s alibi was stronger than prosecution claimed and that his case was worthy of a retrial.

NCAVF showed, through careful analysis of the surveillance video, that in fact he may have been at the Hookah Lounge during the fire. The court ruled that had the jury heard and seen this analysis, they may have accepted his alibi. Although there was other evidence against Zumot, we helped support that it may not have been enough for a unanimous jury conviction.

Zumot’s defense attorney wrote, “The video evidence shows that the state presented false evidence and argument as to exactly when Mr. Zumot arrived in the café.”

Zumot could have in fact been at the place he said he was while the cottage burnt down with Schipsi inside. This led to the judge granting a “habeas corpus” writ which is rare.

NCAVF helped Zumot have the chance to attain what all Americans are promised—a fair trial based on the evidence.