A Superior Court judge in San Jose today refused to release on bail a man accused in the 1989 murder of his former sister-in-law after his attorney argued he had a heart condition and would pose no threat to the community.
Judge Hector Ramon denied a motion by the attorney for Robert Zimmer to have Zimmer, who is 70 years old, freed from jail pending court proceedings in the murder of Cathy Zimmer, whose body was located in a car in an airport parking lot on March 10, 1989.
Zimmer, a retired former IBM employee with a gray beard and curly hair, used earphones to help him hear arguments by his San Jose lawyer Steve Defilippis in favor of his release on $100,000 bond.
Robert Zimmer and his brother David Zimmer, 69, are charged with murder in the strangulation death of David Zimmer’s estranged wife Cathy in the 25-year-old cold case that the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office reopened in January.
Both men are being held at the county jail. Robert, a former employee for IBM, was arraigned on the murder allegation on Feb. 27.
David Zimmer, a one-time engineer for the aircraft firm Boeing at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, was formally charged on March 10, the 25th anniversary of the discovery of Cathy’s body.
Cathy Zimmer’s corpse was found wrapped in a quilt blanket in the rear floor board of her 1986 Chrysler New Yorker that was parked at San Jose International Airport two days after she was last seen alive.
Robert Zimmer was charged after the district attorney’s office put together a case that included evidence that his DNA was likely part of a DNA mixture found in a lab test on the zipper and button of pants worn by Cathy when her body was recovered.
Defilippis argued in favor of releasing Robert Zimmer on bail for medical reasons.
Robert Zimmer’s doctor reported that blood output from the defendant’s heart was measured at only 31 percent and that the county jail had not given him the right level of medication for his cardiac problems, Defilippis said.
“This is not going to be a threat to the community, with a 70-year-old man with a heart condition,” he said.
The lawyer also disputed the DNA evidence, stating that Robert Zimmer had been in Cathy’s car after her death to sell it, and his DNA may have been left behind before police tested it months later.
Deputy District Attorney Ted Kajani countered that a DNA mixture including Robert Zimmer’s DNA had been found on Cathy Zimmer’s clothing after her body had been removed from the car and so Robert Zimmer’s DNA could not have been transferred onto it later.
Ramon said he was persuaded against granting bail, based in part on the DNA mixture that prosecutors said included Robert Zimmer’s biological marker.
The judge also cited a statement by Robert Zimmer’s daughter, Paula, to San Jose police in 2010 that Robert Zimmer had told her he had been in Cathy Zimmer’s car the day the woman disappeared and that he was afraid his fingerprints might show up in the car.
Paula’s statement placed Robert Zimmer in the dead woman’s vehicle in “a very specific time frame,” the judge said.
“This is the day of (Cathy Zimmer’s disappearance),” Ramon said. “So, I find that very persuasive, very significant.”
In order for Robert Zimmer to qualify for bail, he would have to cite “unusual circumstances” under law and his medical condition did not meet the standard, Ramon said.
Defilippis said out of court that Ramon’s ruling was “disappointing” because Robert Zimmer “is not someone who is a threat to the community.”
In a paper opposing bail for Robert Zimmer, Robert Brown, the district attorney’s office investigator assigned to the case, revealed a number of new facts in the murder of Cathy Zimmer.
On March 9, 1989, at about 9:45 a.m., Cathy Zimmer’s son 18-year-old Mike Biron reported her missing to San Jose police.
David and Cathy Zimmer had been married for about 11 years but had separated in November 1988, with David Zimmer moving to a residence in Woodside. Some of David Zimmer’s co-workers told Brown that they believed they were going through a divorce.
David Zimmer told police after Cathy Zimmer’s death in 1989 that he had been having an affair with a female co-worker, also an engineer, since July 1988 while they worked at NASA Ames’ Moffett Field facility.
After Cathy Zimmer’s disappearance, David Zimmer criticized San Jose police’s missing persons investigation and suggested police check San Jose airport, where her car and body were found, even though no one else gave a reason to police to search there, Brown stated.
Following her death, David Zimmer allowed the biological father of Cathy Zimmer’s two children to take care of them after telling him he could not take care of them himself.
A month after Cathy Zimmer was found dead, David Zimmer sold their San Jose home for $226,000, collected sums of $133,000 and $50,000 from insurance policies on her death and promised to set up trust funds for Cathy’s two children, but never did.
Brown also stated in the report that Robert Zimmer has pleaded guilty in 2011 to misdemeanor sexual assault on his granddaughter, the daughter of his daughter Paula.
In 2010, during the investigation into the assault, Paula told San Jose police that Robert Zimmer had told her about his fears about the fingerprints in Cathy’s car the day Cathy went missing, according to Brown.
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