Now he was struggling. Li had kicked him out of the mansion where she lived with their two children in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States, a multimillion-dollar fortress in Hillsborough, Calif., with French doors opening to balconies in the bedrooms and landscaping more fitting of a country club.
But on the night of April 28, 2016, prosecutors say, instead of going inside for pancakes, Li invited him back home. It was a trick, prosecutors said. Once there, Li’s new boyfriend, Kaveh Bayat, allegedly shot him through the mouth in the garage, and paid Li’s security guard to dump Green’s body on the side of a dirt road.
That’s the theory prosecutors presented Monday during opening arguments in Li and Bayat’s high-profile murder trial, painting the wealthy mother as selfish and greed-driven and arguing that she ordered a hit on Green so she could get rid of him and win the custody battle on her own terms.
But Li’s attorneys contend that prosecutors don’t even have the right people on trial, and that instead, Green’s kidnapping and killing were the work of one person: the bodyguard, Olivier Adella — the only one who has admitted his involvement.
Now, in a trial expected to last through mid-November, jurors will be asked to interpret heaps of largely circumstantial evidence and traces of blood and DNA evidence to decide which theory they believe.
“As soon as Keith went missing, fingers pointed at Tiffany,” defense attorney May Mar said in a nearly three-hour opening statement, the Associated Press reported. “They had a custody issue. It’s clear their relationship was not so contentious that she ever would have wanted him harmed or killed.”
No murder weapon has been recovered. But prosecutors said Monday that they will rely on cellphone records placing Green at Li’s mansion on the night of the killing, gunshot residue found in her garage, and blood found in her Mercedes and in Adella’s vehicle to make the case, the AP reported.
Li, 33, and Bayat, 32, have pleaded not guilty to the murder charges, the Mercury News reported. Adella, 44, took a plea deal on charges of accessory to murder in exchange for his testimony against the couple, saying they ordered him to dump the body. He will no longer testify after trying to reach a defense witness on Instagram last week, in violation of the plea agreement, according to the Mercury News.
Li’s case drew national interest in 2017 after she posted $66 million bail, among the largest amounts ever in U.S. history. Fearing Li’s family wealth in China made her a serious flight risk, a judge ordered her bail set at $35 million. Li and her mother’s business associates and wealthy friends raised $4 million in cash and then had to post double the remaining amount with $62 million worth of property bonds to secure her release. Li’s attorneys argued that the raised money indicated that many believed she was innocent.
“Friends, distant relatives, business associates who are willing to risk their houses for this woman,” Li’s defense lawyer Geoff Carr told KGO at the time.
Since then, she has remained on house arrest in the same Hillsborough mansion where prosecutors allege she and Bayat killed Green.
Li and Green met in 2009 and soon moved into the mansion, valued at $7 million and owned by Li’s mother — although the couple couldn’t have been more different, the AP reported.
Born in Beijing, Li grew up in Silicon Valley, attending prestigious schools before joining her mother’s business after college. Her mother, Li Jihong, amassed the family fortune in Beijing in the 1980s through joint ventures with construction companies owned by the Chinese military, according to the Financial Times.
By contrast, Green grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Silicon Valley’s shadow, raised by a single mom, the AP reported. After dropping out of college, he flitted between stints of unemployment and temp work. To help get him on track, Li’s mother started paying his $40,000 annual tuition to attend culinary school, the AP reported.
He and Li had two daughters, born in 2012 and 2014. But the couple’s relationship evaporated after Li started having an affair with Bayat, a former friend of Green.
Bayat moved in. Green was kicked out. And the custody dispute that would end in Green’s death began, prosecutors said.
“As he kept asking for more money, she got angry,” San Mateo County prosecutor Bryan Abanto told jurors Monday, the AP reported. “She told her friends, ‘He’s just about the money, not about the kids.' ”
According to documents obtained by KGO, text messages sent months before the killing showed Green asking for Li’s new BMW, $4,000 a month and $20,000 for furniture, saying he wanted to “create a life that is parallel to yours with the kids.” Li sent that exchange to Bayat.
“He was tyn 2 work u 4 money agin!!!" Bayat responded to her, according to KGO. “That’s all he wants. Its not about the kids.”
Shortly thereafter, prosecutors argued, the two began a sinister plan — and that’s where Adella, the bodyguard, came in.
Adella admitted his involvement in an interview with KGO in 2017, explaining how the plot unfolded. The mixed martial arts fighter, who said he worked as Bayat and Li’s bodyguard and personal trainer, recalled the day in February 2016, when Bayat recruited him for a $50,000 job during a meeting in the mansion’s “man cave.”
Bayat allegedly said, “I want you to get rid of Keith Green.” Adella asked what he meant. “We want you to pretty much kill Keith Green,” Bayat said, Adella claims.
Adella said he refused.
Months later, he said he was wrangled into the plan anyway.
On the night of Green’s killing, Adella said, he watched Li meet with Green at the Millbrae Pancake House, on Bayat’s orders, and then went home. Hours later, Adella said, Li and Bayat showed up in his driveway — allegedly with Green’s body in the car.
“I need you to take out the trash,” Bayat allegedly told him, AP reported.
Adella then put Green’s body in his own car and drove down Highway 101 to a remote area, dumping the body in a ditch. Prosecutors say he was paid $35,000 to do so.
But Li’s attorneys said his story is a lie, concocted to pin the killing on Lin and Bayat and deflect blame from himself. They argue that it was a botched kidnapping, although they have not revealed a theory on the motive.
“They have the wrong people on trial,” Mar said, according to KGO. “Who they should be pursuing is Mr. Olivier Adella. That’s been clear from day one.”
Attorneys for Adella couldn’t immediately be reached to comment.
Since Li was charged in Green’s death, she lost custody of her and Green’s two children. Green’s mother and Li’s mother have split custody, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal.