That was the key point of contention Friday in San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City as a prosecutor and a defense attorney gave their closing arguments to the jury.
Could Ms. Parineh, 56, have killed herself while lying in her bed by shooting herself in the head with a 0.38-caliber handgun and then, failing to die, take two more shots — one that missed and one that may have delivered a grazing wound to her head — and then take a fourth shot that ended her life?
"Just pull yourself back to common sense and look at the totality of the evidence," Deputy District Attorney Jeff Finigan told the jury. "Is this the most extreme, superhuman suicide ever? No. This is murder plain and simple."
"It was a suicide gone horribly wrong by a woman not familiar with the gun," defense attorney Dek Ketchum said in his summation. "She shot herself, she struggled, she missed and then she killed herself."
Mr. Parineh, a 67-year-old commercial real estate investor, had seen his net worth melt away after the 2007 collapse of the real estate bubble. He was arrested in June 2010 and has been in county jail ever since on a no-bail status.
The 15 members of the jury panel — 12 jurors and three alternates, all of mixed age, race and gender — sat in Courtroom 2C for 15 days of testimony that included a recording of an anguished 911 call, a video taken at a firing range showing the handgun's recoil, a bed and mattress brought in to reconstruct the scene of Ms. Parineh's death, and many photos, some grisly and revisited more than once. Members of the Parineh family in the front row of audience seats would look away when the photos were shown.
Superior Court Judge Lisa A. Novak said she will give the jury its deliberation instructions on Monday (May 20). If the jury reaches a unanimous guilty verdict, Mr. Parineh faces life in prison or the death penalty.
The couple and one or two of their three adult children had been living in a mansion on Fox Hill Drive in unincorporated Woodside, where Ms. Parineh had been a homemaker and painter. In March 2007, Mr. Parineh's holdings had been valued at $152 million, Mr. Finigan said. By August 2009, he had been reduced to borrowing $655,000; two months later he had stopped paying two mortgages. In January 2010, Mr. Parineh lost his Los Altos office building and all his income and had applied for government assistance, Mr. Finigan said. The family was contemplating life in an apartment.
Using Mr. Parineh's email correspondence with his insurance contacts, Mr. Finigan portrayed him as desperately trying to avoid the cancellation of his wife's policy. Mr. Finigan noted several times how Mr. Parineh's promises to bring his payments up to date lined up closely with two significant incidents: when his wife overdosed in an attempted suicide on March 16, 2010, and when she died, on April 13, 2010.
Both sides agreed that on the day after his wife's death, Mr. Parineh did talk with his life insurance agent. But to what end?
"It's not unreasonable to ask what you're going to get," Mr. Ketchum said. "They clearly had a relationship. He's calling because they had business, they were friends." There is reasonable doubt as to what his motives were, Mr. Ketchum told the jury.
"What this case is about is greed, plain and simple. It's greed," Mr. Finigan said. With his wife's life insured for $26.5 million, Mr. Parineh saw that policy "as the only way to save his lifestyle."
Referring to sometimes harsh email messages from Mr. Parineh to his children, Mr. Finigan pointed to incriminating passages. "I am in more s--- than I can handle," Mr. Parineh says in one, adding that their mother's insurance "can save us" and "save the financial empire that I have built." Mr. Finigan added: "The way he's talking about that insurance, he views it as an asset."
Of the $655,000 Mr. Parineh borrowed, Mr. Finigan noted, $300,000 of it went to maintain collateral on the insurance policy, money he could have used on mortgage payments. "That makes no sense unless you think that money may be coming to you in the future," Mr. Finigan said.
(Names of children removed.)
"He may not be father of the year," Mr. Ketchum said, "but when it comes to business, he can figure things out." It's absurd, he said, to think, given the children's control of the trust, that Mr. Parineh would anticipate rapid payouts that typically take weeks or months.
Ms. Parineh was being treated for depression, and according to Mr. Ketchum, was shouldering many of the day-to-day tasks: opening mail and taking phone calls from creditors, sometimes at 6 a.m.
Suicide had come up. Mr. Parineh had investigated whether the insurance policies covered it, and the couple had a suicide pact between them, Mr. Finigan said.
When Ms. Parineh overdosed at home in March 2010, Mr. Parineh mentioned the pact to his daughter, Mr. Finigan said. As emergency workers tried to resuscitate her, her husband reportedly showed no emotion. When she regained consciousness in the hospital, one of her first questions was the status of her husband, Mr. Finigan said. After that she was upbeat, not suicidal, he said.
Returning to his theme of reasonable doubt, Mr. Ketchum asserted that the children's testimony lacked credibility as to their assessment of their mother's mental health. Likewise regarding their suspicions of their father and their recollections of conversations with him, Mr. Ketchum said.
On the morning of her last day, Ms. Parineh admonished her children to dress nicely, telling her son to always make his bed, then showing him how. "Why that morning?" Mr. Ketchum asked. "Why 'Always make your bed?'"
If Mr. Parineh loved his wife, Mr. Finigan asked, and if she had talked of killing herself to help the family out of its financial difficulties, why didn't he cancel the policies after her suicide attempt "instead of hanging on to them like a dog with a bone?" Why did he give her a gun?
Mr. Parineh did not attend his wife's memorial service, Mr. Finigan added.
His absence "isn't about disrespecting his wife," Mr. Ketchum countered in his summation. "This is about being in a hostile environment where you're grieving." The deputies at the scene of her death described his grieving as genuine, he said.
Mr. Finigan, in examining Mr. Parineh's phone records, noted frequent conversations with an ex-mistress from the 1990s, and that he was staying in a motel with this woman, at her expense, in the days after Ms. Parineh's death.
Mr. Ketchum had an explanation. Mr. Parineh's life was "falling apart" and he was estranged from his children. "He doesn't have any friends," he said. "If you assume that people need to talk sometimes, she serves that purpose."
Staging a suicide?
Mr. Parineh was at home on the day of his wife's death until 12:27 p.m., Mr. Finigan told jurors. Reviewing the defendant's typically voluminous daily phone record, Mr. Finigan observed that in a departure from routine, a series of calls went to voicemail between 10:38 and 11:27 a.m. "This is a guy who's tethered to his phone," Mr. Finigan said, "but not on this day. What was he doing during that time? He was murdering his wife and cleaning up."
When authorities responded to Mr. Parineh's anguished late-afternoon 911 call upon his discovery of the bloody scene in the couple's bedroom, they took close-up photographs of his (Parineh's) hands, photos that Mr. Finigan displayed for the jury. "These are not the hands of someone who has just come home, and (who) loved his wife. They're immaculate," Mr. Finigan said. "There was blood all over Ms. Parineh." The condition of his hands is "entirely inconsistent" with the intensity of his 911 call, Mr. Finigan added.
Mr. Parineh's hands were "beautifully manicured," Mr. Ketchum said in a rejoinder to the prosecution's photos. "He's not the kind of guy who likes to get his hands dirty."
Gunshot residue (GSR), the cloud of microscopic particles a gun ejects when being fired, was found on Mr. Parineh's left hand, shirt, vest, T-shirt and trousers. How did it get there? The prosecution claimed that it happened when Mr. Parineh shot his wife. The defense said it was acquired by storing the clothes in a bag that had carried a gun to a firing range. Mr. Finigan rejected that claim, based on videos that included shots of Mr. Parineh carrying a particular bag to the gym.
"There is something important about GSR and it's where it's not," Mr. Ketchum said. "It's not in his car (as it) should be if he had GSR on him when he left the house" if he had just fired a gun.
Physics on trial
No one can explain the two missed shots, Mr. Finigan said. And the shots that did enter Ms. Parineh entered through her cheek and her upper lip, atypical for a suicide, he said.
The scene in the bedroom lacks a shadow without spattered blood — a void that would have been created if another person were there pulling the trigger, Mr. Ketchum said. "I think the physical evidence in this case has helped us unravel what happened," he said. "A painstaking analysis can't establish that (Mr. Parineh) was in the room."
There were strong indications that her body had been moved and the bedding rearranged after she died, Mr. Finigan said. She appears to have been face up when bleeding and on her side when found. It's natural for a body to be face up after a suicide, he said.
The bloodstains on the gun were smeared and consistent with having been transferred from another surface rather than naturally acquired after the shot, Mr. Finigan said.
Her hand was covered in blood, but photos show her fingertips were unstained. "She could have dropped that weapon, groped for it and pulled it back," rubbing her fingertips clean of blood in the process, Mr. Ketchum said. "If she's capable of voluntary movement (after the first shot), this is a reasonable interpretation. ... If you've shot yourself in the cheek and you're suffering, you may very well use two hands (to hold the gun)."
If a body's been moved, an absence of blood on fingertips is unreliable, Mr. Finigan said.
All four shots leave a similar trajectory of shell casings and bullet paths. If Ms. Parineh was on her side when she shot herself, Mr. Finigan asked, how would the trajectory of that final shot have differed? "This idea that somebody can shoot themselves in the head," he told the jury, "and somehow have the wherewithal to find the gun and try a different (two-handed) way to shoot it ... that's unreasonable. That's something you must reject."