The defense team for Nima Momeni - accused of fatally stabbing tech executive and Cash App founder Bob Lee - has requested a venue change for his trial alleging "prejudice" in the Bay Area after photos were published showing Momeni in his San Francisco County jail cell.
Following a court hearing to file the motion and set a trial date, lead defense attorney Saam Zangeneh blasted the publishing of the photos saying it was "so inappropriate and ugly ... that we felt compelled that we had to expedite our motion to change venues."
"It has unfortunately taken an extremely negative position on where this case is going and the perception that the media and the public here the jury is going to have with regards to our client," Zanganeh told reporters.
In the article, published November 28th by the SF Standard, the publication writes that Momeni is "confined to an isolation cell with a metal toilet, a bunk bed and a desk."
"In one of the images taken on Aug. 3, he stands upright with his arms closed, his chest out, beside a desk piled with books. In another, he peers through the security glass, smiling. In all of them, he wears his jail-issued orange-colored sweatshirt and pants," the article reads.
In three of the four photos published in the article, Momeni appears to be looking at the camera with a mild grin. In another, he appears to be fixing his hair through a plexiglass window in his cell.
Momenithree times in the early morning hours of April 4th, 2023 in the East Cut neighborhood of San Francisco and .
In a motion to change venue, Zangeneh states the San Francisco jury pool has been "polluted" with biases stemming from the photo and subsequent media coverage of the case. The coverage extends to Momeni's sister Khazar Momeni, who. Thursday's motion comes two days after Khazar Momeni was arrested in San Francisco for alleged hit-and-run and driving under the influence, according to San Francisco Police.
According to police, late Monday morning, officers were called to the intersection of Geary and Larkin after a report of a vehicle collision. Arriving officers located the involved driver and witnesses and conducted a collision investigation. Officers developed probable cause to determine that the driver of the vehicle -- Khazar Momeni -- was driving under the influence. She was booked at San Francisco County Jail on charges of driving under the influence, two counts of hit and run, failure to drive within the lane, and failure to provide insurance at the scene of an accident.
Momeni's legal team has not requested a specific location, but suggests that anywhere within a 100-mile radius of San Francisco may be unfair to his client.
"I think there's civil liability, I think there's partial criminal liability," said defense attorney Bradford Cohen.
In a statement, the publication maintains that Momeni gave permission for the photos to be taken and the legal team was contacted prior to publication and they did not "raise objections or concerns about the publication of the images."
"A freelance photographer had permission to take photos inside the jail and Nima Momeni gave the photographer permission to have his photo taken," SF Standard editor-in-chief Julie Makinen told CBS News Bay Area in a statement. "We contacted Momeni's legal team prior to publication and they did not raise objections or concerns about the publication of the images. The Standard believes the images were entirely newsworthy."
Momeni's team says "unequivocally" that neither they nor Momeni authorized the photos.
"They knew that they were purchasing pictures, the cameraman knew not to take those pictures, he was instructed to not take pictures of individuals in those cells yet he did it anyways and the article coupled with those pictures is one of the most disgusting things I've seen in a case where the defendant is innocent until proven guilty," Cohen continued. "What they did made this not a fair and impartial system."
The San Francisco Sheriff's Office says the photographer of the images "violated our established media rules, thereby unethically violating the conditions imposed, which were put in place to protect the security and privacy of those incarcerated."
The photographer was at the jail for a story on administrative separation cells for the Los Angeles Times. Momeni is held in a separate part of the county jail for his protection.
The sheriff's department says by selling the photographs that were separate to the intended story for the visit, it resulted "in a further violation of our media rules and a blatant disregard for the agreed upon conditions."
"The SFSO condemns such actions unequivocally, as they compromise the mutual trust between law enforcement agencies and the media, compromising the well-being of incarcerated individuals, and the integrity of information shared with the public," said SFSO communications director Tara Moriarty.
Speaking to reporters after the Thursday hearing, Zanganeh referred to Lee as a "celebrity" in the tech sector and compared the bias to such status saying if a "Los Angeles Laker is the victim of a homicide, do you think the defendant would be able to get a fair trial in LA? I don't think so."
In court, Judge Rochelle C. East expressed frustration with the photos and said the sheriff's department - which runs the county jail - is taking the matter "very seriously" and has launched an investigation into the matter.
"They are taking care of this," she stated.
During the hearing, Cohen called the publishing of the photos "highly prejudicial, next-level kind of stuff we've never seen before."
The judge set a date of January 25 to hear the change-of-venue motion and a preliminary trial date of March 15. The trial date is likely to be changed depending on the result of the motion to change venue.
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