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Should accuser be forced to testify in sexual assault hearing for man charged in killing?

Man accused of killing U. student in June facing charges in separate incident from 2018

SHARE Should accuser be forced to testify in sexual assault hearing for man charged in killing?
Salt Lake police take Ayoola Adisa Ajayi into custody in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 28, 2019. Ajayi, 31, is accused of murdering University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for the man accused of sexually assaulting a woman more than a year before police say he murdered University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck argued Wednesday their client has a right to compel his one-time date to testify in court.

Lawyers for Ayoola Adisa Ajayi want to put the woman on the stand to probe what they say are discrepancies in her initial discussions with police and a signed, two-page statement she submitted to a judge in lieu of testifying.

“There are important inconsistencies,” Ajayi’s defense attorney, Neal Hamilton, said. “They point against bindover instead of supporting it.”

Third District Judge Vernice Trease has not yet ruled whether the evidence meets the standard of probable cause to bind Ajayi over for trial on charges of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony; and three counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

Prosecutor Marc Mathis said the woman’s statements don’t conflict and the document that was admitted in court simply distills the facts. He argued the only point of putting the woman on the stand is to attack her credibility, a move he said is fitting at trial but not at the preliminary hearing stage.

“Of course the victim is going to be asked to give as clear and concise information to the court as possible,” he argued.

The woman’s written statement — describing a dinner date at Ajayi’s Salt Lake City home in which he sexually assaulted her and pinned her arms down before she wriggled away — was submitted in court under penalty of perjury, he emphasized.

The document meets the standard of probable cause required for the case to move forward and any further testimony she gives wouldn’t change that, Mathis said.

Utah has long permitted a victim statement instead of testimony at a preliminary hearing. Whether or not a defendant can then summon a victim to the stand, however, has been debated. The Utah Court of Appeals currently is considering the question in a separate case.

A handful of Utah laws appear to conflict on the issue. Ajayi has a right to confront the woman at trial, but not at the current preliminary hearing stage, Mathis said. Yet Ajayi’s attorneys say the law permits him to call witnesses in his defense at both stages.

The woman’s attorney, Laurel Hanks, said Utah’s victim rights law protects her client from harassment like being forced to give unnecessary testimony before trial. She said differences in the statements are explained by the effects of trauma and forcing her client to testify would only serve to traumatize her.

Ajayi, who wore glasses and a yellow jumpsuit, did not speak during the Wednesday hearing. He is separately accused of murdering Lueck and setting fire to her body in June.

Prosecutors said they learned about the assault allegation, which predates Lueck’s death by more than a year, as they gathered evidence in the homicide. Ajayi has not yet entered pleas in either case.

While she originally told police she had blocked Ajayi’s number, Hamilton said last month that the woman spoke with investigators again after forensic analysis of her phone showed they continued to exchange messages.

Trease is scheduled to rule Nov. 20 whether the woman can be compelled to testify at a second portion of the preliminary hearing a week later, when Ajayi also will have a chance to testify in his own defense.

Ajayi, originally from Nigeria, has been jailed since June on charges including aggravated murder, a capital offense.

Police say say Lueck met Ajayi early on the morning of June 17 at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake and the two went to Ajayi’s house. An autopsy found Lueck died from blunt force trauma to the left side of her skull. After she was killed, prosecutors say Ajayi set fire to her body. Her charred remains were found by police in a shallow grave under a grove of trees in Logan Canyon on July 3.

In a third criminal case, he faces 19 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony, after police said they found child pornography on devices seized from his home during the murder investigation.