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A preliminary hearing is tentatively set to begin in August for Jorge Tovar Fernandez, charged in connection to the fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend near Waller Park last Easter Sunday. 

Tovar Fernandez, 27, will return to court one more time, June 20, to confirm a date for the preliminary hearing, which is expected to begin Aug. 8 and run for three days at the Santa Maria Superior Court. 

If found guilty, Tovar Fernandez faces the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole in connection to the death of Elyse Erwin, 28, with whom he shared custody of their young daughter. The case is filed with a special circumstance -- commission of murder by lying in wait -- and also with a special firearm enhancement. 

Authorities allege that Erwin, who was a catering coordinator at Monarch Dunes Golf Course in Nipomo, went to visit a friend in the 100 block of Goodwin Road, near Waller Park in Orcutt, early April 16, 2017. Just before 7 a.m., a resident in the area discovered Erwin's body on the ground next to her vehicle and called 911. Sheriff's officials responded and determined that Erwin had been shot in the head, ruling her death a homicide. 

Sheriff officials launched an investigation, and determined that Erwin's ex-boyfriend, Tovar Fernandez, was a person of interest in the case. He was later found in his Lompoc residence and was subsequently detained for questioning.

A protective order was also issued for the pair's child, which prohibits Tovar Fernandez from contacting his daughter, and from intimidating or dissuading her during his criminal proceedings.

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Last fall, Tovar Fernandez's defense counsel unsuccessfully sought to have the criminal protective order removed, arguing that the child wasn't a witness or a victim in the crime. The prosecution opposed the request, stating that there was good reason to believe the defendant could try to manipulate his daughter, given his alleged abuse and stalking of Erwin in the months leading up to her death.

The child was interviewed in April after Erwin was fatally shot, and authorities reportedly discovered the child had knowledge of the crime and witnessed her parents' hostile relationship throughout the years.

Court records indicate that the alleged victim and defendant were involved in a bitter child custody battle, and that Tovar Fernandez verbally abused and stalked Erwin, according to police reports. 

Documents also show that Erwin told family and friends she feared for her safety and made several attempts to get a restraining order, to no avail. 

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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Courts/Public Safety Reporter