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Details of Townsend murder emerge in preliminary hearing

By JOHN WRIGHT

Murray Ledger & Times

The case of an Almo man accused in the death last month of a Murray State University student will go to a grand jury.

Calloway District Judge Randall Hutchens found that enough probable cause existed Wednesday morning to send the case of Julius Sotomayor Jr., 22, of Almo, to the next level of the court system following a preliminary hearing in Calloway District Court. Sotomayor is accused of murder, theft by unlawful taking over $500 but less than $10,000 and tampering with physical evidence in the death of Sarah Townsend, 21, of Farmville, who was a senior student at Murray State University.

Julius Sotomayer was arrested early Saturday, March 27 and charged with the murder of Sarah Townsend of Farmville.

Sotomayor has been incarcerated at the Calloway County Jail since his arrest in the early morning of March 27. That came about 24 hours after Townsend’s deceased body was discovered in a ditch along Fox Road near the intersection of McCuiston Drive, about four miles southeast of Murray. 

Wednesday, there was only one witness who testified in the prelim. Trevor Pervine is a detective with Kentucky State Police Post 1 in Hickory and gave a brief overview of his involvement in the case up to now. 

Pervine said that he and other Post 1 detectives began investigating the case after the Calloway County Sheriff’s Office requested their assistance at about 7 a.m. on March 26. This came minutes after a passerby reported finding a body, which resulted in CCSO deputies Danny Williams and Brandon Winebarger responding.

Pervine said it became apparent quickly that foul play was involved.

“We were able to observe gunshot wounds to the victim,” he said, adding that the body, still unidentified at that time, was taken to the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office in Madisonville for an autopsy examination. “At this point, we tried to identify who our deceased victim was and, later in the day, Murray State (University Police Department officers) received a request for a welfare check for a student who didn’t show up for work that matched the description of our deceased victim.”

From that welfare check, Townsend was identified as the victim, he said. It was also through talking to some of her friends that Sotomayor became a suspect. Pervine said detectives learned that Sotomayor and Townsend were friends.

“We learned that Julius Sotomayor Jr. was the last person with Sarah and, when we met with Julius at his house (on Pondview Drive in Almo), Julius admitted to shooting Sarah multiple times and fleeing down south toward Georgia and then turning around and coming back,” Pervine said, adding that it is believed that Sotomayor took Townsend’s vehicle, which is the basis for the theft charge. 

Calloway Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust asked Pervine if the vehicle was found. Pervine said yes.

“Julius told us where the vehicle was located. It was behind a barn close to a pond,” the detective responded, then answering Foust’s inquiry of whether or not there had been an attempt to conceal the vehicle. “Yes, it was pushed back in the wood line.”

Sarah Townsend

While the autopsy confirmed Townsend had died from multiple gunshot wounds, Pervine said the weapon responsible has yet to be found. This is the basis for the tampering charge, he said, after Sotomayor allegedly said he discarded a gun into a river.

“We don’t know exactly what river or anything about where it was disposed of,” Pervine said. 

Public defender Shannon Powers asked if anyone else is being seen as being involved in the case. Pervine said no, adding that the investigation indicates that Townsend and Sotomayor had attended a party on the night of March 25 at the Campus Evolutions apartment complex along North 16th Street in Murray.

“As they left, they had told a couple of friends that they were going to go out toward Blood River (a tributary of Kentucky Lake in the southeastern part of the county),” Pervine said. 

Powers also asked Pervine about the circumstances that led to the shooting. The detective said Sotomayor said he wanted to commit suicide.

“He said that he wanted to kill himself. He said that he was sitting in the driver’s seat and she was in the passenger seat and wanted to kill himself,” Pervine said. “She wouldn’t let him, so he killed her instead.”

A preliminary hearing is designed for a judge to determine if enough evidence exists in a case to move it forward. In Kentucky, that next step is to have a case heard by a grand jury whose duty also has to do with determining if there is enough evidence to advance the case.

Foust said the next Calloway County grand jury is scheduled to meet next week. If the grand jury does determine there is enough evidence, it will issue an indictment, clearing the case to move into Calloway Circuit Court. Hutchens went ahead and set Sotomayor’s next court date for 1:30 p.m. May 4, in Calloway Circuit, reliant on Sotomayor being indicted.

Powers said the defense will not waive having the case brought to a grand jury. Sotomayor has been incarcerated at the Calloway County Jail in Murray since his arrest on the morning of March 27. He remains in jail on a $1 million bond; Hutchens kept it at that amount Wednesday.

Individuals facing charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.