SALT LAKE CITY — The man accused of killing Utah college student Mackenzie Lueck has been ordered to stand trial on separate charges that he sexually assaulted a woman more than a year before Lueck’s death.
Third District Judge Vernice Trease ruled Friday the evidence against Ayoola Adisa Ajayi meets the standard of probable cause in each of four criminal charges. A trial was scheduled to begin in February.
The 31-year-old Ajayi, shackled and in a yellow jail uniform, hung his head as the judge read her order. Earlier this year, a woman alleged that he pinned her arms down and assaulted her during a dinner date at his Salt Lake City home in March 2018.
Trease entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to charges of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony; and three counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.
Ajayi’s attorneys had pushed back on the kidnapping count, arguing the woman wasn’t held for a substantial period of time or in a life-threatening circumstance, and any actions his client took to prevent her from leaving were not separate from the assault.
Trease saw it differently. She said the woman’s telling of the events was sufficient to support the kidnapping charge at the early stage of the case.
Instead of testifying at the preliminary hearing, the victim of the alleged rape signed a two-page document detailing how she says Ajayi assaulted her. His defense team had wanted to call her to the stand for cross-examination, saying there were inconsistencies between the court document and her initial statements to police.
But Trease agreed with prosecutors and the woman’s attorney that Utah’s victim rights law protects her from being forced to take the stand at the preliminary hearing.
Police said they learned about the assault allegation, which predates Lueck’s death by more than a year, as they investigated the homicide.
Lueck, 23, of El Segundo, California, met Ajayi early on the morning of June 17 at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake and the two went to Ajayi’s house, investigators said. Her charred remains were found by police in a shallow grave in Logan Canyon on July 3.
Ajayi, originally from Nigeria, could face the death penalty if convicted in her death. A preliminary hearing in that case is set for March.
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. A preliminary hearing in that case has been set for later in March.
Correction: An earlier headline incorrectly said a trial will begin in March. A hearing is scheduled to take place in March but a trial has not yet been set.