Rohail Sarwar hails from Pakistan but on Monday July 15 he stands trial for murder in Woodland, California. The Yolo County city just north of the state capital of Sacramento has seen some sensation trials, such as the proceedings for double murderer Daniel Marsh, but never anything quite like this.
As the Davis Enterprise reported last August, police arrested Sarwar, 27, “two days after finding the brutally stabbed body of Sacramento resident Junying Lu, 51, in the hallway of Cottonwood Massage.”
Police tracked down Sarwar through surveillance video and arrested him. When asked if could afford an attorney he said through a Punjabi interpreter, “my wife may know.” In court his wife, Farzane Kouser, and her unnamed brother requested and received a public defender.
“I don’t believe it,” Kouser told reporters about the murder charge. She also revealed that “Sarwar came to the U.S. from Pakistan about 11 months ago,” and had been “working for a landscaping business.”
Cottonwood Massage owner Shufan Xuan told the Enterprise that on five or six occasions Sarwar demanded sex, which the masseuses denied. During a massage with Xuan, the suspect Sarwar, “forcibly tried pulling off Xuan’s clothes and then choked her.” Then, as Xuan discovered, the suspect had urinated on the bed, leading the employees to brand him “the pee guy.”
In the preliminary hearing, as Danielle Silva reported in the Davis Vanguard, the Cottonwood owner testified that Sarwar came “just to request sex” and after being denied “he would point silently at each of the workers present before leaving.” On August 21, 2018, detectives found Junying Lu dead on the floor at the end of hallway. The bathroom was “covered in blood” and “the body was found near the dryer.”
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 fatal wounds came from “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.” Behind the washing machine, police found “a tip-less knife” with “dried blood and hair on the edge.”
Video footage revealed “a male who frantically pushed the walk sign button. Blood would later be found on this pole.” At Sarwar’s residence, the suspect was “defensive during questioning,” but confirmed that he was the man in the video. Police found, “several articles of clothing previously mentioned that were covered in a brownish, reddish substance similar to dried blood.”
Sarwar was found fit for trial and prosecutors filed counts of murder with enhancement for a deadly weapon, lying in wait, assault by force and assault with intent to commit sexual assault. The charges make Sarwar eligible for the death penalty. The suspect is not speaking to reporters and the woman named as his wife, Farzane Kouser, along with her unnamed brother, have not showed up in local media.
A September, 2015, tweet from a Rohail Sarwar states, “I could really go on and on about this Muslim kid who got arrested in Texas.” That is likely a reference to Ahmed Mohamed, arrested after he showed up at school with a digital clock that school officials believed was a threat.
ICE did not respond to a request for Rohail Sarwar’s immigration status. By all indications, Sarwar is not a student and California has little if any need to import landscape workers from Pakistan. His case may be one of chain migration or the visa lottery, as with Sayfullo Saipov, who in 2017 in New York killed eight people by running over them with a rented truck.
Sarwar was placed on a no-bail hold, a stark contrast to Ismael Huazo-Jardinez, previously deported and illegally present in the United States. After he killed three people in an auto crash and attempted to flee the scene, Sutter County judge David Ashby, a Jerry Brown appointee, granted bail to the triple manslaughter and felony DUI suspect. The Mexican national was in the process of fleeing when ICE arrested him.
Sacramento CAIR boss Basim Elkarra claimed that Hamid Hayat, convicted in 2006 of providing support to terrorists, did not get a fair trial. Early this year U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes ruled that Hayat’s lawyer Wazhma Mojaddidi, a former CAIR president in Sacramento, put on an ineffective defense. In a court proceeding, Barnes scheduled two nights of video testimony by witnesses in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistani “pee guy” Rohail Sarwar has not been championed by local activists or decried as an example of violence against women. Other details will doubtless emerge in the trial, but if Sarwar should get the death penalty, there is little prospect that the sentence would ever be carried out.
In March, California Gov. Gavin Newsom reprieved more than 700 convicted murderers, including previously deported Mexican national Luis Bracamontes. In 2014 in Sacramento County, Bracamontes murdered police officers Danny Oliver and Michael Davis, said in court that he wished he’d killed more cops, and shouted “black lives don’t matter” at family members of the victims.