A California real-estate heiress accused of conspiring with her boyfriend to kill the father of her two children was acquitted on Friday.
Tiffany Li, 33, was found not guilty of murdering her ex-boyfriend, 27-year-old Keith Green, amid a custody dispute over their daughters.
San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Robert Foiles, however, declared a hung jury in the case against her boyfriend, 32-year-old Kaveh Bayat, after 12 jurors indicated they were in an evenly split deadlock after days of deliberation.
“You’re a free woman,” Li’s defense attorney told her after the verdict was read, according to KRON4.
Prosecutors argued that on April 28, 2016, Li lured Green to her mansion in Hillsborough, Calif., to discuss their ongoing child custody dispute, before Bayat fatally shot him in the head in the garage. Li’s bodyguard and personal trainer, Olivier Adella, then dumped Green’s body on the side of a dirt road, where authorities found his remains two weeks later, prosecutors alleged.
“[Li and Green] had a contentious custody battle,” San Mateo County prosecutor Bryan Abanto said. “As he kept asking for more money, she got angry. She told her friends, ‘He’s just about the money, not about the kids.’”
Her defense attorneys, however, argued Green was killed in a kidnapping gone wrong orchestrated by Adella.
“As soon as Keith went missing, fingers pointed at Tiffany,” defense lawyer May Mar said in his opening statement, insisting the couple had already settled their custody battle. “They had a custody issue. It’s clear [that] their relationship was not so contentious that she ever would have wanted him harmed or killed.”
The verdict came after 12 days of deliberations, nearly bringing to a close an almost two-month trial in a case that drew national interest after Li posted a staggering $66 million bail in 2017. The trial was delayed several times on account of Li’s cancer diagnosis and after Adella, who was set to be the prosecution’s star witness, was arrested in September on unrelated charges.
Prosecutors revoked Adella’s plea agreement after he allegedly tried to contact a defense witness through Instagram, according to The Mercury News. Although he was to be the prosecution’s key witness, Adella did not testify after violating his plea deal and is currently in jail.
Li, whose family amassed millions in China from real-estate ventures before expanding their business in the United States, met Green in 2009. The two quickly moved into the family’s mansion, and Li began paying for her boyfriend’s $40,000 tuition to culinary school in an attempt to jump start his career, prosecutors said in court.
Before their split, the pair also had two daughters—now ages 7 and 5.
Li eventually kicked out Green in October 2015 when she started having an affair with Bayat, complaining to friends that her ex was more interested in money than their children, prosecutors said. According to text messages obtained by KGO, Green asked Li for her new BMW, $4,000 a month, and $20,000 toward furniture to “create a life that is parallel to yours with the kids.”
When Li sent those texts to Bayat, her new boyfriend allegedly claimed Green was only interested in her money. Soon after that, prosecutors argued, the pair began plotting to have Green killed.
In a 2017 interview with KGO, Adella said Bayat tried to recruit him to murder Green for $50,000 during a February 2016 meeting at Li’s mansion. Adella told the TV station he refused the offer—but was eventually wrangled into the murder scheme a few months later.
“I want you to get rid of Keith Green,” Bayat allegedly told the mixed martial arts fighter who worked for the couple as a bodyguard and personal trainer. “We want you to pretty much kill Keith Green.”
Prosecutors argued that the night of his murder, Green agreed to meet Li at a restaurant parking lot. Li told investigators they sat in her car for about an hour and discussed the children before he walked away, but cellphone records revealed in court show the two went back to the mansion.
Adella later told investigators that Li and Bayat drove to his building with Green’s body in the backseat of the heiress’ Mercedes G-Wagen, prosecutors said. He allegedly claimed they then put Green into his Chrysler before he drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and hid the body in a remote Sonoma County field.
He said he agreed to move the body after the couple paid him thousands of dollars to “take out the trash.”
A local hiker found Green’s body on May 11, 2016, in a Sonoma County field with a single bullet wound in his neck. Adella was arrested a week later after investigators found more than $35,000 in cash and Green’s watch hidden in a lunchbox in his apartment.
The trio were all charged with murder on May 24, 2016.
Li’s defense attorney, Geoffrey Carr, argued throughout the trial that his client was targeted after Green disappeared—and police and prosecutors ignored crucial evidence that would have exonerated the mother of two.
“They reversed the burden of proof. It’s frankly wrong,” Carr told jurors, according to The Mercury News.
Forensic scientist Keith Inman, who was brought on by the defense, testified during the trial there was no evidence to show Green bled in the garage of Li’s mansion—as prosecutors suggested. Inman told jurors Green’s blood was also not found inside Li’s SUV, according to ABC7.
Carr added in his closing remarks that the basic evidence, including blood spatter, did not prove there was a premeditated plot to murder Green—but perhaps a kidnapping orchestrated by Adella gone wrong.
“There seems to be more evidence consistent with it being a failed kidnapping than it being a murder; that something went wrong,” Carr said.