Burning Bed: Roller-Coaster Romance Ends in Flames


In her messages, some of them laced with expletives, Schipsi called Zumot a "scam artist liar" and told him to "vanish from my life."

But Zumot told police that such exchanges were nothing unusual. The two, he revealed, had a history of domestic violence and had once taken out restraining orders against each other.

The worst of it resulted in a domestic-violence conviction for Zumot on charges of sending Schipsi harassing messages -- fallout from an ugly dispute outside a Starbucks where he spat in her face and kicked in the grill of her Mercedes.

Zumot said the couple's fights were often quickly forgotten and, the night of his birthday and their latest fight, Zumot ignored Schipsi's messages to stay away from her. When he came home, he said, they made up and made love, a reconciliation Zumot recorded on Schipsi's cell phone camera.

But the make-up sex wasn't enough to convince police that Zumot had had nothing to do with Schipsi's death. An arson-sniffing dog had smelled accelerant on Zumot's clothing.

Meanwhile, a medical examiner concluded that Schipsi had died before she burned -- her throat had been crushed.

On Oct. 19, police arrested Zumot at gunpoint for the murder of Jennifer Schipsi.

Believing police had targeted Paul Zumot, Zumot's brother mortgaged several homes to hire one of California's most expensive, high-profile lawyers: Mark Geragos, who has represented Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder and Scott Peterson.

Geragos argued his client couldn't be guilty for several key reasons: among them, pictures taken by police of Zumot's body the night of the fire show no signs of a physical struggle.

"When you choke somebody, the first thing you're gonna do is grab their hands... or you're gonna scratch at the face. You're gonna do something to fight back," Geragos said. "She's got nails -- and there wasn't a single mark on him."

Perhaps even more damaging to the prosecution's case was that a crime lab determined that, despite the arson dog's alerts, there was no accelerant on Zumot's clothing. Only his shoes tested positive for gasoline and, according to the report, it is common for shoes to contain petroleum products.

Geragos also argued that Zumot simply didn't have time to start the fire. He was too busy, he said, running between a weekly domestic violence prevention class and his hookah lounge that evening.

But those points, in addition to the couple's apparent make-up on the night before the fire, weren't enough to convince jurors that Zumot was innocent. On Feb. 10, he was found guilty on charges of first-degree murder and arson.

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