The information technology consultant accused of fatally stabbing Cash App founder Bob Lee near downtown San Francisco pleaded not guilty Thursday morning, making one of his first formal appearances as a defendant in a case that shocked Bay Area residents and drew national attention.
Nima Momeni appeared in court for his arraignment more than a month after he allegedly stabbed Lee and left him for dead. In the early hours of April 4, prosecutors say, Momeni plunged a 4-inch kitchen knife into Lee three times, including twice in his chest, after the two got into an argument over the suspect’s sister.
The judge ruled that Momeni will remain in custody.
The police officers who responded to the scene discovered Lee “unresponsive and lying in the street,” “uncontrollably bleeding from apparent stab wounds to his chest and hip,” and then rushed him to a local hospital, where he died of his injuries, according to court documents.
Momeni was arrested on April 14 after a nine-day manhunt. He faces 26 years to life behind bars, according to the documents.
His lawyer, Paula Canny, told reporters after the arraignment that the stabbing was a “combination of an accident and self-defense,” adding that “there was no premeditation or deliberation” on the part of her client. She did not elaborate on her claim.
In response, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said she would not prosecute the case in the media but insisted that Momeni was a “murderer” who stabbed Lee intentionally.
Silicon Valley mogul Elon Musk and other prominent voices speculated that Lee was killed in a random act of violence; Musk pinned the blame on “repeat violent offenders.” But the revelation from police that Momeni, 38, and Lee, 43, had known each other undercut that narrative. San Francisco’s district attorney criticized Musk by name at a news conference.
Prosecutors have said that, on the night of the killing, Momeni was “questioning” Lee “regarding whether his sister was doing drugs or anything inappropriate.” Lee is said to have reassured Momeni that “nothing inappropriate had happened,” according to court documents.
Momeni later drove Lee to a “dark and secluded area” near downtown San Francisco. That’s where Momeni stabbed Lee, then “threw the kitchen knife, fled the scene in his white BMW at a high rate of speed, and left the Victim to slowly die,” prosecutors said in the documents.
At least one of the stab wounds punctured Lee’s heart. Security footage showed Lee staggering and appearing to plead for help.
Momeni describes himself as an entrepreneur on his LinkedIn page. He lists himself as the owner of a tech company called Expand IT Inc., and as a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. However, a spokesperson for U.C. Berkeley told NBC News last month that the university has “no record of graduation or attendance” for a person by his name.
Lee was best known for creating Cash App, but his most recent professional role was chief product officer at the cryptocurrency firm MobileCoin. He once worked as the chief technology officer of Square (now known as Block), a financial technology company co-founded by the former Twitter chief Jack Dorsey.
Lee also was an investor in Musk’s SpaceX venture as well as other tech companies, such as the social audio app Clubhouse, according to his LinkedIn profile.
An autopsy report released Tuesday revealed he had ingested alcohol, cocaine and ketamine before he was killed, though the substances were not linked to the cause of death.
The report by San Francisco Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Ellen Moffatt listed the cause of death as multiple stab wounds, with the manner and method of death being homicide by sharp injury.
Momeni’s arraignment, originally scheduled for late April, was postponed multiple times.