Hearing finally set 1 year after Salt Lake man is charged with murdering student Mackenzie Lueck
Murder case is one of three Ayoola Ajayi faces in Salt Lake City
SALT LAKE CITY — More than a year after prosecutors charged Ayoola Adisa Ajayi with murdering 23-year-old Utah college student Mackenzie Lueck, a judge on Monday set a hearing to decide whether they have enough evidence to go to a trial.
Third District Judge Vernice Trease ordered a three-day preliminary hearing to start Oct. 28, a development that comes after months of delays as attorneys have argued that investigators needed more time to sort through the evidence.
Ajayi is charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, after prosecutors say he bound Lueck’s hands with zip ties, bludgeoned her and burned her body in June 2019. He could potentially face the death penalty if convicted.
Police said Lueck, a University of Utah student from El Segundo, California, met Ajayi about 3 a.m. on June 17 at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake before going to his house in the Fairpark neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Prosecutors say the two texted in the hours before they met and just before a Lyft dropped Lueck there, but have not said how the two knew each other or why they were at the park that night.
Lueck was reported missing three days later. Then on July 3, 2019, her charred remains were found by police in a shallow grave in Logan Canyon. Investigators tracked Ajayi’s cellphone and found it had been there a little more than a week earlier, charging documents say.
An autopsy determined that Lueck died of blunt force trauma to the left side of her skull that caused fatal brain hemorrhaging.
Ajayi has not yet entered pleas to the charges of aggravated murder and aggravated kidnapping, first-degree felonies; desecration of a human body, a second-degree felony; plus obstruction of justice, a third-degree felony.
A 32-year-old U.S. citizen originally from Nigeria, he previously waived his right to a speedy hearing.
On Monday, he wore an orange jail uniform, glasses and a green face mask in the brief hearing held via videoconference from the Salt Lake County Jail. Court dates like Monday’s and the upcoming preliminary hearing are currently being held remotely under coronavirus restrictions in the state court system.
Search warrants unsealed earlier this year gave a picture of several steps investigators took to link Ajayi to Lueck’s disappearance.
When police interviewed the Lyft driver who drove Lueck to the North Salt Lake park, he said another woman there helped Lueck transfer her luggage into Ajayi’s car, according to the search warrants. A man renting the basement Airbnb in Ajayi’s house reported seeing Ajayi burning pallets and what appeared to be a white door in the backyard of his home.
On Monday, Trease also scheduled a separate trial on Dec. 2-3 for Ajayi. In that case, he is accused of sexually assaulted a woman during a dinner date at his home in March 2018 after the woman saw news coverage of Lueck’s death, recognized Ajayi and got in touch with police.
Ajayi has pleaded not guilty in that case to charges of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and three counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.
In a third criminal case, he is charged with 19 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony, after police reported finding child pornography on devices seized from his home in their investigation into Lueck’s death. A preliminary hearing in that case is set for Oct. 1.