Ayoola Ajayi Pleads Guilty To Murder Of Mackenzie Lueck
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Prosecutors have reached a plea agreement with the man accused of killing University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck.
Ayoola Ajayi, age 32, appeared in Third District Court Tuesday, wearing a face mask. He faced felony charges of criminal homicide/aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and the abuse or desecration of a human body.
As part of the agreement, Ajayi pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and abuse or desecration of a human body. The aggravated kidnapping and obstruction charges were dropped.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty, and instead agreed that Ajayi would serve life in prison with no chance for parole.
Prosecutors said Lueck’s family agreed to the terms of the plea deal.
— Dan Rascon (@TVDanRascon) October 7, 2020
Reported Missing June 20, 2019
Mackenzie Lueck was last heard from during the early morning hours of June 17, 2019. She had flown to the Salt Lake City International Airport from California for her grandmother’s funeral.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said it began as a missing person case three days later when Lueck’s father called the Salt Lake City Police Department and said no one had heard from his daughter since shortly after her arrival in Utah.
Investigators found video evidence that Lueck had been at the airport, as she was seen in surveillance footage walking toward the exit. As she left the airport, officials said Lueck took a Lyft share ride to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake, about 13 miles away.
A search of her cell phone records confirmed she had been at the park. Detectives also learned she had “exchanged several text messages” with Ajayi. Her last text to him was at 2:58 a.m.
Cell phone data placed Lueck and Ajayi at Hatch Park at the same time. Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said Lueck’s phone stopped transmitting data or location information at 2:59 a.m., indicating her phone had been powered off.
LIVE: Ayoola Ajayi has pleaded guilty to murdering University of Utah student Mackenize Lueck in June 2019. In exchange for the guilty pleas, prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty..
Posted by KSL 5 TV on Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Digital Footprint Led To Suspect’s Home
Police tracked Ajayi’s cell phone signal from the park to his home at 547 North 1000 West in the Fairpark neighborhood. Sim said the signal from Ajayi’s phone arrived at his home at 3:07 a.m. – just 7-8 minutes after picking Lueck up from the park.
After executing a search warrant at the home, detectives found a freshly dug site in the backyard. They found a charred human bone, muscular tissue and burned personal items they said belonged to Lueck.
In a nearby alleyway, they also found charred fabric and other items.
Gill said the DNA of the bone matched the DNA profile found in items belonging to Lueck.
During their search, a neighbor reported that on June 17 there had been a “horrible smell” coming from a fire in Ajayi’s backyard. The neighbor told police that Ajayi had a bonfire behind a garage at the residence that day, and again on June 18.
Witnessed said the fire was fueled by gasoline.
Gill said the neighbor reported the fire in the same location where detectives had found freshly dug ground, and where they had discovered the bone and tissue.
In the process of their search, investigators seized Ajayi’s vehicle. They reported a strong odor of gas, and a red gas can in the trunk. They further determined that Ajayi had purchased a similar gas can at a local store at 9 a.m. the morning Lueck went missing.
Police Work Led To Logan Canyon
Detectives discovered the location of Lueck’s body by following Ajayi’s digital footprint, officials said.
There had been speculation that Ajayi had cut a deal with prosecutors to reveal the location of the body, but Gill said that wasn’t the case.
He said a July 3, 2019, analysis of Ajayi’s cell phone records placed the phone in Logan Canyon on June 25 between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Police conducted an extensive search of the area. After what Gill described as a “lengthy search,” investigators found recently disturbed ground in a wooded area off the main road.
It was in this location where they found a charred human body that had been placed in a shallow grave. The medical examiner’s office determined the body was that of Lueck.
Her arms had been bound behind her back by zip tie and rope.
The medical examiner determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma on the left side of her skull and ruled her death a homicide.
BREAKING: Medical examiner says #MacKenzieLueck suffered fatal blunt force trauma to left side of skull.
— Ladd Egan (@laddegan) July 10, 2019
Murder Investigation Led To Other Charges
Ajayi appeared in court on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, on 19 felony counts linked to child pornography allegedly found on his computer.
Investigators have said the images of children as young as 4 were found on his computer during the investigation into Lueck’s death, but have not been linked with her slaying.
He entered a plea of not guilty.
In December 2019, Ajayi was ordered to stand trial on charges that he sexually assaulted another woman he met on a dating app for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more than a year before Lueck’s death.
Officials said Ajayi invited the woman to dinner at his home in March 2018. She told officials he pinned her arms and assaulted her, but she was able to escape.
The woman reported the incident after seeing news stories about the death of Mackenzie Lueck.
Ajayi initially pleaded not guilty in that case, but has since changed his plea to guilty as part of the agreement with prosecutors.
Former Neighbors Have ‘Little Sympathy’ For Ajayi
Mackenzie Lueck’s death still haunts the neighborhood where her killer used to live.
One woman was just too teary-eyed to talk to KSL TV. Another neighbor said he wanted to move.
Jeff Lutz moved into Ajayi’s home, and said he tries not to think about it.
“I chose not to look at police reports, even though they said I could look at them if I wanted,” he said.
It was hard to miss Wednesday’s news.
“Mr. Ajayi burned Ms. Lueck’s body, her clothing and her belongings in an attempt to dispose of evidence of her murder and her presence at his home,” said prosecutors.
Ajayi’s attorney laid out in graphic detail what happened to Lueck, as his client pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and desecration of a human body.
Neighbors said the hold little sympathy for the man who lived among them.
“He did an awful thing,” said Lutz. “I mean, it’s what he deserves.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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