How To Defeat Murder Charges In California – Part 3

Defense Strategy #1:

Present Counter-Circumstantial Evidence to Support Your Alternate Murder Theory (Continued)

The “Hillsborough Heiress” Murder Trial (Continued)

The Parties’ Closing Arguments (October 22 and 23, 2019)

The Prosecution (October 22, 2019)

After a full month of trial, the San Mateo County DA’s Office gave its closing arguments. In light of the extraordinary amount of circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution, its two-hour closing argument was surprisingly brief – and telling.

It was also emblematic of its entire prosecutorial strategy – i.e., drawing broad brush strokes supported by flimsy, highly circumstantial evidence. Perhaps by this point, the prosecutors’ collective heart simply was no longer in the fight.

Or maybe they were simply exhausted – after all, the trial had thus far lasted thirty days, which means round-the-clock work, including after-hours and on weekends, with little sleep. At least that’s been my experience in the well over sixty trials I’ve completed to verdict to date.

Of course, during its closing, the prosecution highlighted all of its purported evidence that I discussed in the previous two articles in this series. However, in my opinion, the prosecutors attempted to paint a picture to the jury that was simply not supported by enough concrete evidence.

Indeed, I was honestly flabbergasted that they had essentially proceeded on the strength – or lack thereof – of a single non-existent witness, Adella, who the jury had come to suspect had proven to be too unreliable, if not unbelievable, to be called to testify at trial.

Even more egregious, all of the evidence cited by the prosecution in their closing argument – in light of the defense’s devastating counter-circumstantial evidence – only served to point the evidence at their own chief witness, Adella, as the actual killer.

The April 1, 2016 Text Message: “Green Light”

Some of the prosecution’s key highlights during closing, however, had nothing to do with Green. For example, they emphasized a text message dated April 1, 2016 – twenty-seven days before Green disappeared – from Li to Bayat, which simply read, “green light.” The prosecution interpreted this to mean that Li was instructing him to proceed with the murder conspiracy.

The Burner Calls That Night (April 28, 2016)

The prosecution then pointed to the flurry of calls and texts that fateful day and night going to and from Adella’s burner to and from the other two unidentified burners as evidence of a conspiracy. Indeed, the very existence of these burners, they argued, in and of themselves prove there was a conspiracy, and were simply another step in the defendants’ attempts to cover their tracks.

The Prosecution’s Overarching Theory

They finished by laying out their big picture. First, Li, Bayat, and Adella somehow subdued and incapacitated Green in the parking lot of the restaurant during the former’s couple meeting on the fateful night of April 28, 2016. They then put him in the back of Li’s G-Wagon, then Li and Bayat drove him to her Hillsborough mansion, with Adella following closely behind in his Chrysler.

Once they pulled the G-Wagon into her garage and closed its door, Bayat then put a pistol into Green’s mouth and pulled the trigger, killing him.

Afterwards, they transferred the corpse to Adella’s Chrysler. He then drove the corpse up to Sonoma County where he disposed of it, before doing the same with Green’s cell phone in Golden Gate Park. See

The Defense (October 22 & 23, 2019)

In contrast to the prosecution’s brief closing, the defense took a full one-and-a-half days to complete theirs. But make no mistake, every minute was riveting, and the jury listened attentively, absorbing every word.

The defense started with reiterating the fact that the prosecution had immediately focused on the defendants as the primary co-conspirators, and, as a result, self-servingly and intentionally chose to ignore all evidence to the contrary. The prosecution knew that going after Li would bring major headlines because of her family’s wealth and the prurient aspects of the case.

The defense then meticulously went through every piece of their counter-evidence to support that argument. They also easily dismissed the “green light” text by explaining that this was Li’s message to Bayat that she was ready to make a final settlement with Green to end their custody dispute.

In other words, the defense argued, at every step of the way, the detectives and prosecutors either misinterpreted evidence, or ignored it all together if it didn’t fit into their version of events.

The lack of defendants’ motives

The defense then argued that the former couple’s custody and financial disputes fell woefully short of serving as a motive to murder Green and thereby render Li’s children fatherless – which, they pointed out, the evidence showed was the last thing she wanted to do.

Next, the defense argued that the prosecution failed to provide evidence to support the fact that the defendants owned the two unidentified burners and, therefore, there was simply no proof that Li or Bayat had been in contact with Adella that night. See

The Alternate Theory of the Murder

Once the defense finished their step-by-step evisceration of the prosecution’s flimsy circumstantial evidence, they then laid out their theory of what actually happened that night. By doing so, they thereby provided logical, sensical answers to those cliff-hanging questions they had planted in the jury’s mind during their defense-in-chief. See

Specifically, the defense argued that Adella’s phone records proved that he had been in frequent contact in the days leading up to Green’s disappearance with Shriwastow and Calleja, and that it was far more likely that it was the latter two who had been using the two unidentified burners.

It was Calleja’s house the trio had been driving to when things went south and they accidentally shot – or were perhaps forced to shoot – Green along the way.

It was Adella who was the mastermind, and it was in his possession Green’s diamond Cartier watch had been found. It was in his Chrysler which Adella admitted he had driven the body – the same vehicle the detectives didn’t even bother searching for evidence to corroborate Adella’s claim that Green had not been murdered therein.

In their final closing statements, the defense asked that the jury try to imagine a scenario where Adella was the mastermind of Green’s murder, with Shriwastow and Calleja as his co-conspirators, and that the killing resulted from the trio’s botched kidnapping scheme without the defendants’ knowledge.

The jurors were gently reminded that this scenario actually seemed far more likely than the hair-brained and baseless one offered by the prosecution. See

The Verdicts (November 15, 2019)

On October 28, 2019, the jurors retired to begin deliberating after thirty-six exhausting – though never boring – days of trial. Eighteen nail-biting days later, they finally came back into the courtroom with their verdicts.

For Li, it was not guilty on both counts on the following charges:

She wept openly in court, collapsed against her attorneys, and caught the next flight out to Hong Kong. The chances of her returning to the U.S., where a wrongful death lawsuit had been filed against her several months earlier by Green’s mother, was and remains unlikely.

For Bayat, the jurors had hopelessly deadlocked on the murder charge: six voted guilty and six voted for acquittal. On the conspiracy charge, the votes were seven versus five, respectively. Fortunately for Bayat, however, the judge dismissed the charges against him with prejudice, citing the “interests of justice”. As a result, the DA’s Office was denied any possibility of a re-trial. See

Aftermath of the Trial

Not that there was any chance the DA’s Office would want to risk another humiliating trial defeat like this one. Which is precisely why Adella was never tried for murder, conspiracy, or even intimidating a witness (again, for contacting/threatening his ex-girlfriend via Instagram) under the following Penal Code sections:

In addition, Making a Criminal Threat is typically charged as a Strike Offense under California Penal Code section 667(a)&(b) and California Penal Code section 1192.7.

And that’s exactly what the DA’s Office announced on December 12, 2019 – Adella would face no further charges. Indeed, he would be released on January 11, 2019, after serving eighteen months of his three-year sentence for Aiding and Abetting Murder/Accessory After the Fact to Murder under California Penal Code section 32 (i.e., half time off for good behavior). 

My Own Analysis

I don’t have much to add here aside from the fact that if the prosecutors had been reckless enough to actually put Adella on the stand, the defendants’ lawyers would have ripped him to shreds on cross-examination. He would have proven to be such a terrible prosecution witness that I truly believe the jury would have reached its verdicts much earlier than they did (and may have even acquitted Bayat).

Again, defense counsel did an outstanding job in every way. I probably would have been a bit more concerned about the detectives testifying that Li had shown no expression of emotion when told about the discovery of Green’s body.

And although the defense did a nice job of getting the lead detective to admit that her voice had changed upon hearing the news, I would have been concerned that wasn’t enough, particularly in light of the fact that she never asked how he had died, or how she was going to break the news to her kids.

As a result, I might have brought on an expert witness to testify about how different people and cultures experience and express shock differently. I would have also liked to put on a Chinese cultural expert to testify that a Chinese national like Li, who grew up in a traditional manner, would likely express shock in a far more reserved manner than someone born and raised their entire life in the U.S. And in closing, I would have argued that her seeming lack of emotion should be written off as simple cultural differences. But that’s a fairly minor point.

Defense Strategy #2:

Counter Every Prosecution Expert Witness with Your Own

The Second Ted Binion Murder Trial

Introduction to the Great Tony Serra (My Old Boss and Mentor)

During my three-year stint in law school at the Santa Clara University School of Law, I was fortunate enough to clerk for both the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and legendary criminal defense and civil rights lawyer J. Tony Serra (just plain “Tony” to everyone who knew him). He became famous for successfully representing radicals in the 1960s like leaders of the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, the Symbionese Liberation Army (who kidnapped Patty Hearst), and even Hells Angels Maximum Leader, Ralph “Sonny” Barger. See

He became so famous that actors James Woods and Gene Hackman both played him in different movies; specifically in 1989’s True Believer and 1990’s Class Action, respectively. (Big surprise -- Tony despised the venomous, arch-right-wing Woods so much that he refused to let him continue trailing him to prepare for the film.) 
See See also

To the untrained observer, Tony was a still-radical, long-haired hippie from the Sixties who wore ill-fitting, thrift-store suits and drove $500 junkers until he simply abandoned them after they collected too many parking tickets.

His suite of offices in San Francisco were decorated like a Sixties time machine with ancient Grateful Dead concert posters and Native American dream catchers. And, of course, there was that constant smell of marijuana everywhere. I almost didn’t get the job because I was literally the only person in the office who didn’t inhale! See

My Tenure as a Law Clerk with Tony Serra

But Tony’s perpetually-stoned facade instantly evaporated when he stepped into a trial courtroom. I’ve never seen judges – including hard-bitten, ancient federal judges – fawn over an attorney like they did, or see prosecutors cringe in terror in his presence. Most importantly, though, I was able to see how he quickly bonded with juries, who would inevitably come to deeply empathize with him and his clients.

Whenever Tony was in trial, the courtroom would always be packed with other defense lawyers, eager to pick up tips from him. But there can only be one Tony Serra (which is why I left San Francisco and moved to LA to plant my own flag here).

And I’m happy to say he’s still proving he’s the finest lawyer north of LA County! I learned a great deal from him, which I’ve incorporated into my own trial practice and for that, I’ll be forever grateful to him (as well as his kindness to me).

As luck or fate would have it, I was also able to work closely with Tony while he handled one of the biggest cases of his unbelievably stellar career – the alleged murder of the crown prince of one of Las Vegas’ original royal families. And it’s for this reason that out of all the high-profile murder cases I discuss in this series of articles, this is the only one that occurred in another state.

And I know I said something similar in regard to the Tiffany Li murder trial, but the Binion family’s story – including the wild gangster days of the patriarch, Benny, as well as Ted’s murder and the subsequent trials – truly deserves its own Netlfix series.

Introduction to the Late Ted Binion

On September 18, 1998, fifty-five-year-old Lonnie Theodore "Ted" Binion – the youngest male heir to the Benny Binion Horseshoe Casino’s fortune, of which Ted’s share was then conservatively estimated to be $50 million (double that for today’s dollars) – was found dead in his multi-million-dollar ranch-style home in Las Vegas.

Ted was a notorious drug fiend who loved hanging out at local strip clubs and “chasing the dragon” (inhaling the vapors of black tar heroin from heated-up tin foil). While everyone immediately assumed he had overdosed, within 48 hours of his body being discovered, suspicion of murder would suddenly fall on his ex-stripper, live-in girlfriend and her secret lover/his close friend. 

Lester “Benny the Cowboy” Binion, aka “King of the Dallas Rackets”

Ted’s story began twenty-three years before he was born in 1920, when his father, Benny “the Cowboy” Binion, began his bootlegging career in Dallas, Texas, as an eighteen-year-old thug at the outset of Prohibition and the birth of the Roaring Twenties.

Despite having only a third-grade education, Benny – through a rare combination of guile, street smarts, viciousness, and a bigger-than-life personality – steadily moved up the underworld until he became known as the “King of the Dallas Rackets” by the time World War II broke out. He earned his nickname by putting over a dozen enemies into the ground with his twin .45-caliber six-shooters.

Teddy, as he was known to his family, was born into this violent, quasi-glamorous milieu on November 28, 1943 when Benny was reaching the zenith of his power in the greater Dallas metropolitan area, as well as the rest of Texas, by making a simple offer to anyone who could help him or stand in his way: bribes or bullets. See

By all accounts, Benny loved his son but didn’t have much time to pay him attention, much less raise him properly. In any event, Benny was nothing if not prescient, and in 1946 – when Teddy was still a toddler – Benny saw the writing on the wall when the Chicago Mafia syndicate, aka “The Outfit”, began moving into town.

He packed up his custom Caddy with two million dollars in cash (over $13 million in today’s dollars) and his two favorite Tommy-gun-toting killers, and beelined it straight to Sin City just in time for the grand opening of Jewish gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s notorious Flamingo Hotel on the Strip.

Benny became good friends with Mafia heavyweights like Siegel, Meyer Lansky, and Moe Dalitz, who all knew to give the murderous Cowboy a wide berth. Benny would eventually be classified as a “Top Hoodlum” by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself until he became a top-secret FBI informant.

Shortly thereafter, Benny’s wife, Teddy, and his two older brothers joined Benny in Vegas. (The couple’s only daughter, Barbara, was born later.)

Binion’s Famous Horseshoe Casino and Hotel, aka the Horseshoe Club

In 1951, when Teddy was seven, Benny opened up Benny’s Horseshoe Casino in the then-derelict area of downtown Vegas. Shortly thereafter, Benny slapped a hotel onto the casino itself. Of course, the Binions reserved the entire top floor, including its opulent Presidential Suite, for themselves.

Benny was a true innovator who introduced to Vegas “comps” (free drinks, limo rides, and rooms). He also instantly made his new casino famous by offering no-limit betting, and for never refusing a bet, regardless of how high. He also encased one million dollars in cash in an impossibly thick frame of bullet-proof glass. See

Also in 1951, Benny was prosecuted for income tax evasion, eventually convicted, and shipped off to Leavenworth federal prison two years later when Teddy was only nine. No doubt Benny’s three-year-long absence had a profound effect on Teddy’s pre-adolescence.

Indeed, by the time he was fifteen, Teddy had begun chasing the dragon and would continue to do so for the next forty years until his death.

Please continue reading the next article for the rest of the Binion family saga, including Ted’s murder.

The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)

Lead counsel Ninaz Saffari’s favorite practice area involves defending clients against murder and attempted murder charges. Her clients as of this writing (November 28, 2020), are facing a cumulative total of five separate first-degree murder charges (including a special circumstances/death penalty murder), and four premeditated and deliberate attempted murder charges.

More specifically, her last eight clients who have been charged with homicide crimes have been prosecuted for the following Penal Code violations: