Judge issues decision over return of property in Hillsborough heiress murder case; defense says federal prosecution unlikely

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- A judge on Friday turned down a defense request to return personal property to Hillsborough heiress Tiffany Li who had been found not guilty of murder last fall.

Outside court, her lawyers said there was little chance that she would be prosecuted for kidnapping by the federal government.

Attorneys for Li argued that the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office should return evidence it seized in the 2016 murder of Keith Green, the father of Li's two children. That evidence included Li's Mercedes G-Wagon. But the lawyers say they would have no objection to the D.A. keeping the property if it would help convict the real killer of Green.

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Two of Li's attorneys, Geoff Carr and May Mar, were in attendance for the hearing. Carr told San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Robert Foiles that all along the defense believed that the prosecution's former star witness, Mutapaha Traore, who formerly used the false name of Olivier Adella, was directly involved in the murder of Green.

He said that federal prosecutors translated a jail phone conversation that Traore made to his brother in a West African dialect. In that conversation, the translator said that Traore stated he was present when Green was killed.

Traore has insisted that was an inaccurate translation. In an exclusive interview with ABC-7 News I-Team reporter Dan Noyes in 2017, Traore said he reluctantly agreed to dispose of Green's body out of concern for his and his family's safety. He said Li and her then boyfriend Kaveh Bayat had previously offered him $50,000 to kill Green but he refused.

Deputy District Attorney Bryan Abanto told Judge Foiles that he couldn't comment publicly on the current investigation of the case, but noted that Li was never the sole defendant and that Bayat is still subject to being retried.

At the conclusion of the hearing that lasted a little over 10 minutes, Judge Foiles ruled: "I am going to deny the motion in light of the fact that there is still an ongoing investigation."

Outside court, San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe reiterated the prosecution's position, "She wanted her property back and we wanted to keep it in our possession until the investigation was thoroughly and completely done."

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Wagstaffe added that the investigation into the case has been put on hiatus as a result of the resources of the sheriff's office being diverted to deal with the county's response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the wildfires that have plagued part of San Mateo County.
Carr reiterated to ABC-7 News that Li was fully supportive of the District Attorney's Office keeping her personal property if it helped them prosecute Green's true killer or killers.

At the start of the hearing, Abanto stipulated that his office has already returned some of Li's property including her passport and would plan to return a small list of items that would not jeopardize the investigation, but that his office needed to keep the bulk of the evidence, which included Li's Mercedes. The prosecution said the SUV was used to move Green's body from Li's mansion just after Bayat shot him in the mouth.

Li still faces a wrongful death lawsuit that is being brought by Green's mother, Colleen Cudd. In July, one of Li's attorneys in that civil case said during a hearing that Li faces a "reasonable threat" of being prosecuted by the federal government for kidnapping until the Statute of Limitations runs out in April 2021.

But Carr said the chance of Li being prosecuted by the federal government is "remotely possible" but "unlikely." But he said he welcomed a federal investigation into Traore and his associates.

The hearing was attended by one of the jurors in Li's trial, Tina Kenney Mulready. In a text to ABC7 News just after the hearing she wrote, "I am relieved that the case is ongoing, ie that the D.A. is still actively working to find the person/s responsible for Keith Green's murder."

Click here for full coverage on the investigation into the death of Millbrae father Keith Green.
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