Jury Returns Guilty Verdict in Massage Parlor Killing

By Sindy Lim

Woodland – A Yolo County jury found Rohail Sarwar, 28, guilty of first-degree murder for the fatal stabbing of Cottonwood Massage employee Junying Lu last August 21.

The verdict also convicted him of the special-circumstance allegations of lying in wait and murder in the commission of burglary, as well as multiple sexual-assault offenses.

Yolo Superior Court Judge Paul Richardson set Sarwar’s sentencing hearing for September 12 at 1:30 pm.

Prosecutors argued during the two-week trial that Sarwar fully intended to kill 51-year-old Lu, stating the defendant purchased a pocket knife from a liquor store right before entering the massage parlor.

Before the homicide, Sarwar was a blacklisted client at the parlor for repeatedly asking employees for sex. At one point, when his demands were refused, he tried to sexually assault the business’s owner and urinated on a massage table.

Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson tried to argue for a second-degree murder verdict, suggesting his client acted “in the heat of a moment and snapped” with no time for premeditation. None of the jurors, however, were convinced by that explanation.

Closing Statement for the People

by Evan Chu

Deputy District Attorney Frits van der Hoek, in his closing arguments, argued that after the previous customer entered the massage parlor at 3:32p.m, the defendant was captured on camera entering Bob’s Liquor, the liquor store across from the parlor, at 3:44p.m. In the meantime, video showed Mr. Sarwar looking out the window toward the massage parlor several times.

According to the video from Bob’s Liquor, Mr. Sarwar bought the knife at 3:48p.m while constantly keeping a close eye at the massage parlor.  Mr. Sarwar entered the parlor at 3:55p.m.

The next customer entered the parlor at 4:13p.m, and her testimony stated that there was no one there except a male with a cap waiting there, whose description fit the image of Mr. Sarwar, telling her that the victim wasn’t working there. However, according to testimonies provided by the first customer, he was inside the room receiving a massage from the victim. He also stated that the victim left the room around 40 minutes into the massage and said he heard the victim talking to someone outside about her being busy. Therefore, the prosecutor argued that Mr. Sarwar knew well what he was planning on doing and had to keep anyone else from entering the parlor.

Mr. Sarwar called his wife at 4:16p.m, and then left the parlor at 4:24p.m and headed toward the liquor store. After ending the call at 4:29p.m, he left the liquor store. After that, when he saw that the first customer left the parlor, he went straight toward the parlor. The prosecutor stated that, based on the video, Mr. Sarwar walked on the sidewalk the first time he headed there; but went straight through the parking lot the second time he went there. The prosecutor argued that this was a sign that Mr. Sarwar was trying to be at the parlor while no one else was there.

Phone records show that a minute after Mr. Sarwar’s entry into the parlor, the victim called her boss, stating that “Pee Guy is here.” (4:36p.m)

At 5:24p.m, Mr. Sarwar was captured on camera leaving the parlor. The prosecutor said that, during the time period, one call was calling Mr. Sarwar but didn’t go through. He argued that Mr. Sarwar received a 30-minute massage before stabbing the victim, and stating that he had plenty of time to hide the knife and the body, which would indicate his consciousness at the moment of the crime.

After leaving the parlor, Mr. Sarwar pressed the button to cross the street and left both the victim’s and his own blood on the button.

At 8:49p.m that night, Mr. Sarwar called Mr. Ahmad, his boss, and spoke with him about details of the murder, including things about the stabbing and the locations of those stabbings.

Defense Argues for Considering Cultural Barriers in Massage Murder Case

By Miles Davis

Soon after Woodland PD was alerted of a knife attack that resulted in the death of Junying Lu, murdered at a local massage parlor in Cottonwood Plaza Shopping Center, Rohail Sarwar reportedly placed a phone call to his boss, Mr. Ahmad.

According to Mr. Ahmad’s testimony Mr. Sarwar’s shocking news didn’t pan out from the beginning. Mr. Ahmad made several attempts to assure Mr. Sarwar, his employee, of his uneasiness but was still puzzled as to what the cause of his concern could be if he was innocent or truly unknowledgeable of the event. Mr. Sarwar had frantically told his boss just how the murder in the shopping center near his home occurred. He also knew more than just specific details of the crime though. He didn’t just know details like where the stab wounds were inflicted on the victim, how many wounds were inflicted, or what the killer’s motive could be, but apparently where his wife had been as well.

During Mr. Amad’s testimony he made mention of his wife’s affair, infidelity, and ultimately the shame brought to their family largely being a motivating cause of his court testimony. Considering the nature of the rape allegations against the defendant during the recurrent affair between his employee and his wife, there was a need to clear matters up. The defense made efforts to clear Mr. Amad’s intentions in providing his testimony, as well as pursuing charges of rape on behalf of his wife who initially lied about the affair. Evaluations of bias were necessary to ground findings of his statement as evidence that could help pursue reliable findings of this homicide case with all things considered.

In the prosecution’s closing, they said Mr. Sarwar, 27, is being charged with the 1st degree felony murder of worker Junying Lu, 51, a worker who had only been working at Cottonwood Massage for 1 month before she was viciously butchered. On August 21, an assault that police say occurred after Sarwar’s escalated attempts to make advances toward workers, as well as after the denied requests for sex at Cottonwood Massage.

Yolo Superior Court Janene Beronio found sufficient evidence for Sarwar to stand trial on charges of first-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon. He denied the allegations.

Several convincing articles of evidence were presented to the court to combat Mr. Sarwar’s minimal interaction with the police during their investigation. These included but were not limited to Cottonwood Plaza Surveillance footage, neighboring jewelry store footage, neighboring liquor store purchase records, blood-splattered clothing from his apartment and conclusively the liquor store receipt records corresponding with the descriptions of the knife found behind the washing machine of the crime scene. The defense did their best to caution the questions of assumption regarding the intent, language, customary, or cultural barriers of their client. However, they became nullified and otherwise voided, as they reached a determination of guilt when the proof was thoroughly evaluated and evident.

As the deputy DA described Mr. Sarwar’s actions to the jury, the defendant’s intentions became clear. Mr. Sarwar knew from right and wrong. With that knowledge he stalked outside of the establishment for 2-3 hours before purchasing a folding knife and a 24-ounce Four Loko at a liquor store nearby. After mustering the liquid courage to enter the massage business, which he entered twice, officer testimony reports  his exiting the second time with a red substance covering his hands, leaving blood smears at the signal light as he was seen crossing the street soon after the incident.

Despite the evidence, Mr. Sarwar denied ever going to Cottonwood Massage or buying a knife, until challenged by videos of his doing so. After admitting to the knife purchase, he tried to evade responsibility by saying “it was for work.” He later said he lost it soon after the purchase, Detective Jameson said.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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