A preliminary hearing for the Lompoc man accused of fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend in the early morning hours of Easter 2017 will conclude next week, wrapping up four days of testimony that began last month.
Originally scheduled to span two days, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Gustavo Lavayen on Thursday continued the oft-delayed hearing for the second time since it began Aug. 23 in a Santa Maria courtroom.
Prosecutors and the defense will return Monday, when Lavayen will decide whether probable cause exists to send Jorge Tovar Fernandez to trial for killing 28-year-old Elyse Erwin.
“That’s a lot of exhibits and a lot of objections,” Lavayen told prosecutors and the defense, who spent more than two hours debating more than 90 pieces of evidence introduced over three days of testimony. “I’ll need some time to go through them and consider their admissibility.”
Erwin was found dead in an Orcutt neighborhood April 16, 2017, fatally shot in the parking lot of a friend’s apartment complex.
Tovar, a 29-year-old Lompoc resident with whom Erwin shared a child, was charged April 21, 2017, with her murder with special circumstances.
He pleaded not guilty to all charges that July and has been held in Santa Barbara County Jail without bail since his arrest.
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Prosecutors in May filed a separate stalking charge against Tovar, alleging he regularly kept tabs on his ex-girlfriend and her friends in the time leading up to her death.
Deputy District Attorney Fabiana Fede maintains both cases are related, as Tovar’s actions were a continuous pattern that culminated with her alleged murder.
“He’s tracking her, he’s watching her — he’s letting her know that,” said Fede, pointing to emails, diary entries and a 2016 restraining order. “In those restraining orders … she writes about many of these issues, further showing the defendant was on notice.
"She’s aware of what he’s doing — she’s afraid of what he’s doing — and she needs restraining orders [as] an added protection for her fear.”
Jeremy Lessem, Tovar’s defense attorney, objected to much of the evidence presented during the hearing, challenging it as nonspecific or predating the stalking and Tovar's ex-girlfriend’s death.
“What’s being proven by these is that, in a very remote period of time — years before the murder — that he is looking her up online, finding information, finding posts about her and telling her that he knows she went here, went there or did this,” Lessem said of the evidence.
He considered the emails and messages to be closer to “critiques” or expressions of Tovar’s discontent with Erwin’s behavior.
“[Tovar] seems to be complaining, critiquing or being upset about how she’s behaving, and he’s finding out about how she’s behaving by looking up posts about her online,” Lessem added. “I still don’t see the relevance of how this would go to either of the charged counts.”