Criminal Justice

Testimony: Slain in Law Office Parking Lot, Attorney Foresaw Her Fate But Stayed on Case

First Jason Cai allegedly threatened to ruin Xia Zhao’s career if the California lawyer didn’t drop a civil wrongful death case in which he was accused of drowning his wife in 2006.

And then he killed her, the government contends.

Witnesses in Cai’s current murder case said they saw an Asian-appearing man punch her in her law office parking lot and then chase the 39-year-old attorney around several parked cars before shooting her twice at close range, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Cai, 51, is expected to testify in his own defense as soon as next week, and his attorney said in opening arguments that the chain of circumstantial evidence on which the prosecution relies is insufficient to establish a clear connection with the crime, reports an earlier Mercury News article.

“You may find there is enough evidence for Mr. Cai to be a suspect,” deputy public defender Miguel Rodriguez told the jury. “But the actual evidence does not point to Mr. Cai; in fact, it exonerates him.”

A jury acquitted Cai of murdering his wife in 2006, and the victim’s mother then brought a civil wrongful death case against the software engineer.

Zhao’s husband, Kevin Schwarzckopf, testified this week that she applied for a restraining order and took out a life insurance policy after being threatened by Cai. She also started parking four blocks from the home she shared with him, their son and her elderly parents, to prevent Cai from finding out where she lived.

And she snapped photos of Cai outside a San Jose courthouse, when he allegedly threatened to ruin her career, Schwarzckopf said. “She wanted us to get an idea of what he looked like in case we saw him around the house. She wanted a record.”

Some witnesses disguised themselves with wigs, hats and sunglasses at a preliminary hearing in the murder case and are expected to do so at trial, too, the newspaper recounts.

Attorney Parviz Darabi, who worked with Zhao on the wrongful death case against Cai, say he dropped it after her murder and is haunted by guilt that he didn’t urge her to give it up before she was slain.

“Sometimes I get up at 3:30 in the morning and it hits me,” he told the newspaper outside of court. “If I rejected the case, she would be around.”

He now is much more conscious of security around his own law office in Burlingame, he says, and checks for potential attackers every morning when he comes to work.

Related coverage: (July 2008): “Slain Attorney Didn’t Back Down from Opposing Party’s Alleged Threats” (June 25, 2010): “Man Sought for Questioning in Ex-Wife’s Slaying is Charged With Threatening Her Lawyer” (June 14, 2010): “Opposing Counsel’s Warning Comes Too Late; Lawyer, 54, Is Stabbed 12 Times in Her Office” (June 3, 2010): “Seeming Case-Related Slayings This Week: 3 Judges, 2 Clerks, 1 Lawyer, 11 Others”

Updated on June 25 to link to subsequent post.

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