By Danielle Silva
The preliminary hearing for Rohail Sarwar was completed after testimonies from four detectives. Mr. Sarwar is charged with the murder of Junying Lu, a 51-year-old masseuse at Cottonwood Massage, and the detective testimonies provided more details as to how Mr. Sarwar ended up in custody.
Woodland Police Department Detective Tamara Pelle would come to the stand. On August 21, 2018, Det. Pelle was called to Cottonwood Massage as an unconscious woman was found on the floor; however, when Det. Pelle arrived at the scene, the woman was pronounced deceased.
The detective explained the layout of the business where the front door leads to a long hallway with rooms on either side. The victim’s body was found at the end of the hallway. One room for massages appeared to have had the linens recently changed, with two dark hairs found on the bed. Det. Pelle noted a kitchen, a bed, a closet with towels and linens, a washing machine room, and a bathroom. The washing machine room and bathroom were the most telling of a struggle, where the washing machine was bleaching towels and the bathroom was covered in blood. The body was found near the dryer.
On August 22, Det. Pelle also witnessed the autopsy with a Sacramento County pathologist. The autopsy showed 16 defensive wounds, including an incision that cut through the victim’s thumb, and the tip of a knife was found buried at the top of the skull. The pathologist determined that the fatal wounds would have been from the injuries at her temple, the back of her left lung, the front of her right lung, and the injury across her abdomen to her navel.
Det. Pelle also reviewed video footage from a street camera. She noted a male who frantically pushed the walk sign button. Blood would later be found on this pole. This man was wearing tan colored pants, a button-up shirt, a hat, and sandals. She identified the defendant, Mr. Sarwar, as the man in the video.
In cross-examination, Det. Pelle mentioned that she did not find the murder weapon and attempted to look behind a washing machine by taking a photograph, but could not see anything. In addition, she interpreted the bed as a place for the staff to lie down, not as a location for illicit business such as prostitution.
Detective Joshua Amoruso of the Woodland Police testified next, explaining more videos. He obtained videos from street cameras and from the adjacent businesses to Cottonwood Massage. From the videos, the detective deduced the path of the defendant on the day of the murder.
The path would start at 3:42 pm when a man the detective identified as the defendant walked to Bob’s Liquor & Food from Cottonwood Massage and purchased a silver and blue knife and alcohol. The defendant would drink his alcohol and was near the east window of the store before leaving at 3:54 pm. He entered Cottonwood Massage from the parking lot entrance and remained inside until 4:24 pm when he appeared in front of Bob’s Liquor, frantically talking on the phone and watching a customer go in through the front door and leave at 4:35 pm. He would go back in afterward, remaining inside until 5:29 pm before leaving in front of DJ’s Jewelry. In the video from DJ’s Jewelry, the defendant was found to have red stains on his hands and heading out to the intersection where he would frantically push the walk sign button.
The video surveillance inside of Cottonwood Massage had broken two days prior to the incident.
Detective Mathew Jameson would testify next, sharing statements from several witnesses and describing how Mr. Sarwar was taken into custody.
Two days after the incident, an elementary school staff member identified the man in the video as Sarwar, who had happened to pick up his son early from school one day.
With the address provided by the elementary school, Det. Jameson went to Mr. Sarwar’s house and brought him to the station for questioning.
He found Sarwar to be defensive during his questioning, the defendant confirming the pictures of him from videos but arguing he bought juice and tobacco since he didn’t drink alcohol. The defendant did, however, change his story to the alcohol and knife. Mr. Sarwar claimed he bought the knife for work and when he got home the knife was no longer in his pocket. Mr. Sarwar said on August 21 he did not go to work, but instead went to Bob’s Liquor and then received a massage at Cottonwood Massage. Det. Jameson also claimed the defendant repeatedly asked, “Why would I do that?”
When the detective searched the house, he found several articles of clothing previously mentioned that were covered in a brownish, reddish substance similar to dried blood.
Det. Jameson interviewed the clerk who sold the knife to Mr. Sarwar. The clerk claimed that the next day, Sarwar came back and bought tobacco. The detective also spoke to the defendant’s employer, who shared that Sarwar had called in, saying there was a murder near his apartment. The employer had assured Mr. Sarwar that the man would be caught and not to worry about not coming in, which made Mr. Sarwar upset. In his conversation with his employer, the defendant claimed the clerk had told him the murderer had had a massage and then asked the masseuse for sex. When she said no, he murdered her.
In investigating the defendant further, the detective found that Mr. Sarwar had been having an affair with his employer’s wife. The employer appeared more angry at his wife than Mr. Sarwar. The wife did mention she had been called by the defendant to meet again.
She had said no.
The final testimony came from the lead detective, Detective Benjamin Yen. He would be called in when the cleanup crew found the murder weapon on August 25. They had pulled out the washing machine to find a tip-less knife with the blue and silver pattern on the handle. Det. Yen noted the dried blood and hair on the edge and also shared the difficulty in identifying the knife due to the item not being sold that much.
Det. Yen also interviewed the owner of Cottonwood Massage and employer of Junying Lu. She shared that Mr. Sarwar had been blacklisted after coming multiple times to the massage parlor and requesting sex, even if he wasn’t getting a message. The owner and her employees referred to him as “the pee guy,” as he had urinated on the sheets after assaulting the owner and having officially been blacklisted. The owner noted every time he came just to request sex and was denied, he would point silently at each of the workers present before leaving.
Judge Janene Beronio found the evidence sufficient for trial and set arraignment for October 5 at 10 am in Department 13.