Tiffany Li acquitted: What’s next for finding Keith Green justice?

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REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — Keith Green’s mother sat on the ground in a San Mateo County criminal courthouse hallway. She had just heard the words she did not want to hear: “not guilty.” Tiffany Li was free to go home and continue living her life.

“She’s evil. She was evil to me, she was evil to my son, she was just evil,” Green’s mother, Colleen Cudd, told reporters.

Cudd’s 27-year-old son had a 6-year relationship and two daughters with the 34-year-old Chinese real estate heiress.

Cudd spent months inside the courtroom listening to prosecutors paint a portrait for a jury of what happened to her son the night he was murdered. Prosecutors said Li and Green agreed to meet up on April 28, 2016 to talk about their children in a Millbrae parking lot before Li lured Green back to her Hillsborough mansion to be fatally shot by Li’s new boyfriend, Kavet Bayat. Bayat, 33, desired to replace Green for a lavish lifestyle with Li, prosecutors said. An autopsy of Green’s decomposed body revealed he was shot execution-style.

“She orchestrated all of this,” Cudd said.

Cudd walked into a packed courtroom Friday morning to hear the jury’s verdict for Li and Bayat.. The co-defendants were both charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The jury had deliberated for 12 days, one of the longest deliberations in the county’s history.

For the first time since the trial began, Li showed emotions when the verdict was read. She quietly wiped away tears with a tissue as her defense attorney, Geoffrey Carr, said simply, “You’re a free woman.”

Bayat looked at Li. Li never looked at Bayat.

The jury deadlocked on Bayat, with a 6-6 split. Before Judge Robert Foiles declared the trial for Bayat a mistrial, he asked prosecutor Bryan Abanto if he had anything to say. Abanto said, no, “the court has spoken.”

Keith Green
Keith Green

“We are disappointed with the verdicts, since obviously we believe the evidence supported holding Ms. Li accountable,” District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe later told reporters.

The judge told Li that she could get her passports, and her record-breaking $35 million bail, back. Joy from Li’s mother and other supporters spilled out with hugs and smiles as they left the courtroom together.

But there were two mothers who were feeling far from happy.

Kavet’s mother confronted some of Li’s supporters just outside the courtroom, saying she wanted her son home. Bayat is “very disappointed. He’s not guilty of killing anybody,” his defense attorney, John May, said.

Green’s mother told reporters, “All of this was all about money. You saw at the end of this, the first thing they asked for ‘when do we get our money back?’”

The District Attorney’s Office is now making major decisions: One, will it put Bayat on trial for a second time, and two, should Olivier Adella go on trial for murder as well?

Adella, a 6-foot, 5-inch Mixed Martial Arts fighter, was Li and Bayat’s body guard, personal trainer, and friend. He took a plea deal and admitted he was the person who drove Green’s body from Burlingame north, and hid Green’s body in a remote field in Sonoma County. Prosecutors said Adella owned more than a dozen cellphones at the time he was arrested, and to communicate during Green’s slaying, Adella bought multiple “burner phones.” Green’s blood was found inside the trunk of Adella’s Chrysler, and he was recorded on traffic cameras driving over the Golden State Bridge with, according to prosecutors, Green’s body in the trunk.

Then Adella violated his plea deal. He was eliminated as a witness for the trial, re-arrested, and was re-booked into jail on a homicide charge.

Throughout the trial, Li’s defense team asserted that Adella was the real killer, and that the “wrong people” were on trial.

While defense attorneys said Green’s death was a possible botched kidnapping, Green’s friend said that motive does not make any sense. At the time of his death, Green was poor, unable to pay rent, friends said.

As far as the prosecution’s efforts during the trial, what went wrong?

“I’ve tried a lot of circumstantial evidence trials myself over the decades. It’s a very hard predictor. (With) circumstantial evidence, you have to say, all these pieces amount to enough. For Miss. Li, they obviously did not and that was a miscalculation on our part,” Wagstaffe said.

Prosecutors had no eye-witnesses, and no murder weapon found.

Wagstaffe said his office is going to look closely at new evidence that came out during the Li-Bayat trial.

“Will we retry this case (against Bayat)? We will see. When we can get away from the emotion of today, we will analyze it. My team will present to me what our evidence is and why we think there would be a different outcome if we did,” Wagstaffe said.

Tiffany Li
Tiffany Li / AP photo

In regards to Adella, “I want to hear in detail what the defense presented in this case that a jury obviously to some degree found compelling, since Miss. Li was acquitted. They said Mr. Adella is the murderer. I want to hear what the evidence was that the defense presented, I want to consider all of that when deciding whether or not Mr. Adella will be prosecuted for murder,” Wagstaffe said.

When asked if the 6-6 split will impact that decision, Wagstaffe said, “That’s a pretty dramatic difference. To retry I look for different evidence, something different, before we go and invest taxpayer money on an expensive and lengthy trial. Not just simply, I think I can do a better job next time.”

Bayat has a hearing scheduled for Dec. 4, where prosecutors are expected to announce whether there will be a second trial.

Meanwhile, Bayat and Adella remain as inmates in the San Mateo County Jail. Bayat’s bail is set at $35 million, and Adella has no bail. Adella has already served enough time behind bars for the charge of being an accessory after the fact.

“We will never call Mr. Adella to the stand as a witness. I made that decision, and that will not change,” Wagstaffe said. “I do not view him as a witness whose reliability I would set forth or rely on. I’m glad we did not call him.”

“If I do believe that the evidence now brought to us would show that Mr. Adella is a murderer — that wasn’t the evidence we had at the beginning of this case — but if what we have now amounts up to that, trying the two of them (Bayat and Adella) together as the murderers, is a different picture than Mr. Bayat by himself and Mr. Adella by himself,” Wagstaffe said.

After all facts and evidence are examined again, and prosecutors decide that it’s just not enough to support continuing, “effectively, this case is over,” the District Attorney said.

When KRON4 and ABC7 broke the news on Twitter Friday morning that Li had been found not guilty, most commented with surprise and blasted the judicial system for being warped by her wealth.

Green’s friends felt justice had not been served.

“A sad day today. No justice. We will continue to remember you for who you really are. No one can ever take away your spirit and all the impact you had on so many people,” one close friend wrote on Facebook Friday.

Green’s mother said she knows how justice will be achieved, one way or another.

“Karma,” Cudd said.

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