ALL NEWS

Death penalty off the table in Mackenzie Lueck plea deal

Oct 7, 2020, 2:43 PM | Updated: 9:16 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The man accused in the murder of University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck will avoid the death penalty after pleading guilty in the case, instead serving a life sentence.

Ayoola Ajayi pleaded guilty to the murder of Mackenzie Lueck in a Salt Lake City courtroom Wednesday.

 

He appeared in person, wearing a mask, in the same room with the judge and attorneys. Reporters and others wanting to observe the proceedings did so remotely. 

As part of the plea deal, Ajayi pleaded guilty to criminal homicide, aggravated murder, abuse or desecration of a human body and forcible kidnapping. In exchange, prosecutors will not seek the death penalty, and dropped charges of aggravated kidnapping and obstruction. Instead, Ajayi agreed to serve life in prison without possibility of parole. 

“I want to thank the prosecutors, investigators, and police officers that helped resolve this matter,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement.  “The entry of the pleas today starts the process of bringing some closure and a measure of justice to the Lueck family.”

(Ayoola Ajayi, Salt Lake County Jail)

The plea bargain also means Ajayi will plead guilty in a separate sex assault case. 

The Mackenzie Lueck case

Mackenzie Lueck disappeared on June 17, 2019, after returning to Salt Lake from a trip to her home state of California to attend a funeral. Police say after she landed early that morning, she took a Lyft ride to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake. The Lyft driver told police she met someone there and got into a vehicle without any signs of distress.

DA Gill later said her last text was sent at 2:58 a.m. on the morning of June 17, 2019, to Ajayi’s phone. Just one minute later, Gill said her phone was powered off and did not come back on. 

Police said phone records placed Lueck in the park at the same time as Ajayi, who also once rented an apartment near the park. Gill said phone records showed Ajayi was at his home in Salt Lake City’s Fairpark neighborhood just a few minutes later, by around 3:07 a.m.

campus ban ajayi new charges lueck

The home of Ayoola Ajayi, where police say they found physical evidence in the murder of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo: Paul Nelson, KSL NewsRadio

As their investigation continued, police searched that home, where they found evidence including charred personal items and human “muscular tissue” that Gill said fit the DNA profile of Lueck. A neighbor told investigators Ajayi poured gasoline and burned something in his backyard that produced a “horrible smell.”

According to the charging documents filed last summer, police noticed a strong smell of gasoline in the trunk of Ajayi’s car when they searched the home.

“Inside the trunk was a red gasoline can,” the charges stated. “Further investigation revealed that Ajayi purchased a similar gas can at Smith’s” at around 9:00 a.m. on June 17, 2019, or about six hours after Lueck was last seen.

Investigators found her body in July 2019, 18 days after her disappearance, in Logan Canyon, nearly 80 miles away, where prosecutors said phone records placed Ajayi’s phone on June 25. Her remains were charred and buried in a shallow grave. 


 A medical examiner determined the cause of death to be blunt force trauma.

The plea deal and other charges

The plea deal puts an end to a lengthy ordeal for the family of Mackenzie Lueck, whom prosecutors say agreed to the arrangement. 

In December 2019, a judge ordered Ajayi to stand trial on charges related to the sexual assault of another woman with some similarities to Lueck’s case. According to police, Ajayi was accused of assaulting the woman, whom he met on a dating app, after inviting her to dinner at his home in March 2018. She came forward after seeing reports about Lueck’s death, telling police she was able to escape. Ajayi pleaded not guilty in that case originally, but pleaded guilty to forcible sex abuse as part of Wednesday’s plea deal. 

Ajayi appeared in court on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, to face 19 felony counts related to the alleged discovery of child pornography on his computer. Investigators say they found images of children as young as four years old in the course of the investigation into Lueck’s murder. However, they were not linked to her death. Ajayi pleaded not guilty. Those charges were dropped in Wednesday’s plea deal. 

Ajayi will be sentenced Oct. 23, 2020. 

Contributing: Colby Walker, Marc Giauque

Today’s Top Stories

All News

Sister Tracy Y. Browning, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks during the Sat...
Waverly Golden

Saturday morning conference session makes history

During the Saturday morning session of the 192nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sister Tracy Y. Browning became the first Black woman to ever speak at a general conference.
18 hours ago
u of u student arrested...
Waverly Golden

Other paths to consider when thinking about attending college

Following the student loan forgiveness announcement, college is on everyone's mind. Dave Noriega takes an in-depth look at the alternatives.
18 hours ago
Around 1:02 p.m. this afternoon, a pickup truck with two occupants ended up in a ditch filled with ...
Waverly Golden

Pickup truck crash leaves two dead

The Utah Department of Public Safety says the occupants, a male driver and passenger sustained fatal injuries. 
18 hours ago
Firefighter Fred Woods assesses damages at Tragedy Springs (Jonathan Pierce Calfire)...
Dan Bammes

The sad history of Tragedy Spring

The Mormon Battalion historic site, high in the Sierras is in sad shape after windstorms and wildfires.
18 hours ago
The Church Office Building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured during th...
Tad Walch, Deseret News

‘Any kind of abuse … is an abomination,’ President Nelson says at Saturday morning session

President Russell M. Nelson denounced abuse as a grievous sin and an abomination at the close of the Saturday morning session of the 192nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
18 hours ago
Follow @amandadickson...
Amanda Dickson

Working Conference Weekend

Some of the weekends that I remember best and thoroughly enjoyed were conference weekends. Times were different, but the memories hold true.
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Death penalty off the table in Mackenzie Lueck plea deal