A new stalking charge and several hundred pages of additional evidence has delayed the preliminary hearing for the Lompoc man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend over Easter weekend 2017.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Gustavo Lavayen on Thursday granted a two-month continuance in the matter after defense attorney Jeremy Lessem reported receiving "600 pages plus an additional 10 discs" of evidence against his client, Jorge Tovar Fernandez.
Tovar stands charged with special circumstances murder for the death of ex-girlfriend Elyse Erwin after passersby found her body in Waller Park in the early morning hours of April 16, 2017.
"This volume of material coming in three or four days before the preliminary hearing, I think, makes it impossible to go forward," Lessem told the court in Santa Maria.
Although Lesseem said he understood the complex nature of ongoing investigations, he said it was "unusual" to receive such a large volume of evidence before the preliminary hearing.
"I haven't looked through a lot of it yet," he said. "I've been focusing on the documents that we already had to prepare."
Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Fabiana Fede, who is prosecuting the case, said her office has made every effort to communicate with Lessem and ensure material is made available "as it becomes available to the people."
The latest delay frustrated Lavayen, who pointed to a crowded docket with limited availability to accommodate a two-day hearing.
"I've had to continue this case before because of witnesses," Lavayen told both parties. "Witnesses are subject to subpoena, [so] when I set this thing, people are going to be subpoenaed and they're going to show up on that subpoena — I don't care if they have a vacation to Tahiti or Fiji."
The case was held up last fall due to a delay processing more than 20,000 pages of information from electronic devices linked to Tovar's location at the time of the alleged crime.
Lavayen also expressed his annoyance that the District Attorney's Office has yet to decide whether they will pursue the death penalty or seek a sentence of life in prison without chance of parole.
"Your office can announce — and has announced — in the past [its intent] earlier than this," he said.
Fede, who promised to keep all parties informed, said it is not her decision to make.
Also on Thursday, Tovar also pleaded not guilty to an additional stalking charge stemming from alleged violations of a court order prior to Erwin's death.
Fede said the charge was filed May 29 by the District Attorney's Office as a result of the supplemental evidence provided to Lessem.
She sought to have the two matters consolidated into one case, a matter Lessem said he was not prepared to address.
The two parties are scheduled to return Wednesday, Aug. 14, for a hearing to determine whether the cases will be merged.
The preliminary hearing will return to Lavayen's Santa Maria courtroom Thursday, Aug. 23, and Friday, Aug. 24.