Prosecutors on Friday said multiple emails, videos and internet activity extracted from Jorge Tovar Fernandez’s cell phone outlined an ongoing pattern of stalking and intimidation, a claim his attorney strongly rejected in his preliminary hearing on a murder charge.
Although he conceded they could be occasionally derogatory or explicit, defense attorney Jeremy Lessem said the evidence presented by Deputy District Attorney Fabiana Fede contained “no expression of violence” against Elyse Erwin.
He claimed much of the evidence presented during the preliminary hearing was nonspecific or outside the yearlong timeframe that prosecutors allege the stalking occurred prior to his ex-girlfriend’s death.
“Stalking is a course of conduct over a period of time,” rebuffed Fede, who said Tovar’s online activities “helped him identify where she is, what she’s doing and how he can find her.”
Erwin was found dead in an Orcutt neighborhood April 16, 2017, fatally shot in the parking lot of her friend’s apartment complex.
Tovar, a 29-year-old Lompoc resident whom she shared a child with, was later arrested and charged April 21, 2017, with her special circumstances murder.
He pleaded not guilty to all charges that July and has been held in Santa Barbara County Jail without bail since his arrest.
Detective Julio Gutierrez, who testified Friday as one of 13 witnesses called by Fede during the two-day hearing, said Erwin chronicled her interactions with Tovar in journals dating as far back as 2014.
In addition to tracking emails from the defendant and the outcome of court-mandated child custody swaps, prosecutors claim Erwin’s logs occasionally show her fear of intimidation or harm.
“He threatened me with indirect instructions on where I would find explicit photos of myself,” read one entry dated January 2016, several months before prosecutors claim he began to stalk Erwin. “He claimed I am a whore and everyone will see it.”
The entry continued: “He tried following the social media sites of my employer. [He] stalks all people associated to see if I am out or in a relationship.”
Tovar regularly ran open-source searches for social media accounts linked to Erwin’s usernames, according to Gutierrez.
Fede said Tovar would email Erwin to “show that he had his eye on her and was watching her.”
Gutierrez said a video recorded by Tovar during an April 2016 custody exchange shows him advising his daughter to say “goodbye forever” as he planned to take her to Mexico.
A second video, recorded during a July 2016 custody swap, includes what prosecutors say was a threat to three of Erwin’s friends and co-workers.
“Tell them that I’m mad at them and I’m going to see them,” Tovar says as his daughter walks toward Erwin’s car. “Remember to tell them that. Tell them they’re in trouble in my book.”
During Lessem’s cross examination, Gutierrez clarified that Tovar never made a concerted effort to take his daughter out of the country. He called the threat “empty words” that failed to materialize.
As Erwin kept most of her social media accounts private, Gutierrez said Tovar searched the public accounts of her friends, family and co-workers almost “every day” in a 10-day period ending April 15.
Lessem maintains the posts he saw could not have led Tovar to Erwin in the hours before her death, as nothing in his search history or screenshots suggested that he knew where Erwin would be.
Data from cell towers showed Tovar in an area near North Benwiley Avenue around 12:42 a.m. April 16, according to Reva Headley, the California Department of Justice analyst who reviewed phone records obtained through a search warrant.
She added that no activity was reported by Tovar’s phone after that time.
The timestamp on photos recovered from Tovar’s camera place him at a refinery north of Taft around 3:30 a.m. and again on Highway 1 near Cayucos just before 6 a.m.
Investigators cautioned there was no way to determine when the photos were actually taken, as the date and time on the camera were manually set and running more than an hour slow.
The hearing is scheduled to conclude Thursday, Sept. 5, starting at 8:30 a.m.
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