Mr. Parineh, a 65-year-old commercial real estate investor, is charged with premeditated murder for financial gain. In San Mateo County jail since June 2010, and facing life in prison or the death penalty if convicted, Mr. Parineh wore a dark suit for his presence in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Lisa Novak.
Over three hours on Thursday, April 25, attorneys for the prosecution and the defense outlined the evidence they plan to use in making their cases in the trial ahead, complete with graphic photographs and the anguished audio of a 911 call. The trial will likely unfold over weeks. In introducing himself, Redwood City defense attorney Dek Ketchum noted that jurors will hear from the prosecution's witnesses first and that it may be two weeks before witnesses for the defense take the stand.
The essential question in the case: Could 56-year-old Parima Parineh have committed suicide in her bed by shooting herself in the head with a 0.38-caliber handgun and, failing to die, take two more shots — one that missed and one that delivered a grazing wound to her head — and then take a fourth shot that ended her life?
No, said Deputy District Attorney Jeff Finigan. Mr. Parineh planned and carried out the death of his wife, whose life had been insured for a total of $30 million, to rescue himself from "extreme financial difficulties," including foreclosures, Mr. Finigan said. In the year leading up to his wife's death, Mr. Parineh had been trying without success to stem the crippling erosion of his income and the value of his real estate holdings, and the failing confidence of his lenders once they learned of his plight, Mr. Finigan said.
On the day after his wife's death, Mr. Parineh had inquired about submitting a $26 million claim against one of wife's insurance policies, Mr. Finigan noted. A complicating factor: that policy had been placed in a trust managed by the couple's three adult children, with whom Mr. Parineh did not get along. (Names of children removed.)
After describing Mr. Parineh's severe financial situation, Mr. Finigan introduced some of the physical evidence investigators had turned up, including:
• Investigators for the prosecution found gunshot residue — the cloud of microscopic particles a gun ejects when being fired — on Mr. Parineh's left hand, shirt, vest, T-shirt and trousers.
• Investigators found reason to suspect the blood stains on the comforter covering Ms. Parineh's body and on the gun as it lay on the bed under her hand. The blood had not landed on those items in a way consistent with a suicide, but had been stained after the fact from contact with a bloody surface, Mr. Finigan said.
• The stippling pattern of gun powder where the bullets entered Ms. Parineh's body showed that the gun had not been pressed against her skin.
• A coroner determined that Ms. Parineh had been dead several hours before Mr. Parineh's 911 call. The prosecution's interpretation of Mr. Parineh's locations that day, based on his cell phone record, showed that he could have been at home at the time of death.
In defense, Mr. Ketchum countered some of the prosecution's points:
• The gunshot residue on Mr. Parineh's clothing was weeks old, acquired when he carried the gun to a firing range and had packed his clothes in that same gym bag. Furthermore, his wife's forearms were heavily dusted with gunshot residue consistent with someone unfamiliar with holding a gun and using both hands when firing it. The fallen position of the gun on the bed was also consistent with this scenario, Mr. Ketchum said.
• Using crime scene reconstruction and analysis, defense investigators concluded that the blood distribution at the scene could be consistent with a suicide, based on the order of the shots fired and the wounds they caused.
• The cell phone record showing Mr. Parineh's whereabouts on the day of his wife's death is open to interpretation, Mr. Ketchum said, wielding a map about the size of an uncut piece of plywood showing points of reference that he said he plans to use during the trial.
Wife was depressed
Ms. Parineh, a stay-at-home mom, had a history of depression and a previous suicide attempt via an overdose of drugs, Mr. Ketchum said, adding: "The greatest predictor of a suicide is a previous suicide attempt."
While women tend not to use guns to kill themselves, 30 percent of the time they do, he said. Statistics also show that 1.6 percent to 8 percent of suicides involve multiple gunshot wounds. "Although it's not common to find multiple gunshot wounds to the head, it's not rare either," Mr. Ketchum said.
The family had been used to luxury — Mr. Parineh's real estate had been valued at between $50 million and $70 million in 2006 — but the couple had recently been arguing over whether their children should have to find their own ways financially, Mr. Ketchum said. Creditors had been calling up to 10 times a day, and Ms. Parineh saw suicide as a way to provide a financially secure future for her children, Mr. Ketchum said.
The most dramatic moment in the courtroom that day was Mr. Ketchum's replay of continuous crying on the phone by Mr. Parineh as the 911 dispatcher was trying to get details of the situation. Mr. Parineh's answers to the dispatcher's questions were unintelligible. After at least five minutes of crying, by which point the dispatcher said the medics were at his front door, the call came to an end with a dial tone.
Occasionally during the replay, the judge looked over at Mr. Parineh, whose neutral expression did not appear to change.