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Life in prison, without parole for man who killed MacKenzie Lueck

Ayoola Ajayi pleaded guilty the aggravated murder of MacKenzie Lueck and will be sentenced Friday. (Photo: Salt Lake County Jail)
Ayoola Ajayi pleaded guilty the aggravated murder of MacKenzie Lueck and will be sentenced Friday. (Photo: Salt Lake County Jail)
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Ayoola Ajayi will spend life in prison, without parole, for murdering Mackenzie Lueck.

The man who pleaded guilty to killing 23-year-old University of Utah student MacKenzie Lueck in 2019 learned his fate Friday after the victim's family spoke emotionally about their loss.

Ayoola Ajayi pleaded guilty on Oct. 7 to aggravated murder and desecrating of a human body.

Ajayi also was sentenced for the desecration of a body and sexual assault. Those sentences will run consecutively, meaning Ajayi will spend the rest of his life in prison.

The judge said each of the crimes were extremely serious and egregious on their own. She sentencing him to consecutive terms on all charges and said "even if it will not make a bit of difference. These crimes are the worst of the worst."

She acknowledged the sentencing once a person had life in prison without parole is largely symbolic.

He was arrested in June 2019, a week after Lueck went missing, and plead guilty to aggravated murder earlier this month. The guilty plea is in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole. He will not face the death penalty.

Charges dropped against Ajayi include obstruction of justice, aggravated kidnapping, and forcible sexual abuse.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 2019, Lueck arrived at the Salt Lake City International Airport after visiting her family in California. She texted her parents she had landed, but the Luecks never heard from their daughter again.

Instead of going home, Lueck took a Lyft to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake.

Court documents revealed the driver confirmed to authorities that Lueck met someone at the park. A maroon Subaru was already in the parking lot when the Lyft driver pulled up to Hatch Park. He told police that he saw a person, who he believed was a woman, get out of a vehicle to greet Lueck and that Lueck and the unidentified person appeared casual and friendly with each other.

The driver was eliminated as a suspect after Lyft records showed a customer was transported directly after Lueck was dropped off in North Salt Lake, and that the driver continued transports for the rest of his shift.

In the days following, Lueck's parents said they attempted to call her, but she did not answer. Her father told police all of the calls went straight to voicemail, indicating her phone had been turned off or was no longer in service.

AT&T records obtained by police showed Lueck's phone had been turned off since 3 a.m. on June 17--the day she disappeared.

Between June 17 and 20, Lueck missed mid-term exams at the University of Utah. When her parents and friends couldn't get ahold of her, a missing person report was filed with the Salt Lake City Police Department.

The following Sunday, Lueck didn't board her return flight home to California. Southwest Airlines confirmed she missed the flight.

Over the weekend and on Monday, officers searched several places in North Salt Lake. They knocked on doors to rule out if anyone near Hatch Park had contact with Lueck, Assistant Chief Tim Doubt with SLCPD previously told 2News. Police also were checking her social media and writing search warrants. A tip line was set up.

During interviews, friends of Luecks informed police that she was on Tinder, Seeking Arrangements, Call Her Daddy, all of which "include sexual conversation, photos, videos and date arrangements that MacKenzie has been involved in for quite some time."

Records from TextMe revealed several IP addresses that were used to communicate with Lueck's phone on the day she disappeared. One of those was registered to Ajayi.

On Monday, June 22, detectives went to Ajayi's Salt Lake City home. He agreed to speak to them, but denied knowing Lueck.

Ajayi told the detectives he left his WiFi open to the public because he operates an AirBnB out of his residence. After they were permitted to search Ajayi's phone, police found an app called Seeking Arrangements installed on the device.

Shortly after they left his house, Ajayi contacted police to say he received a text message from Lueck's phone on June 16 at 6:12 p.m. It was a question mark. He responded with the words, “seeking arrangement.” He also sent a photo of himself at Lueck's request. Ajayi claimed their communication ended after that.

Police found Lueck's phone number saved in Ayaji's phone as an unnamed contact with the words "TextMe" underneath it.

Ajayi agreed to let police forensically extract his cell phone if he could consult with his attorney first. Records indicate Ajayi's cellular device was in the same area of North Salt Lake during the same window of time Lueck was last seen there, and that he was the last person she had contact with via text.

Surveillance video obtained by North Salt Lake police showed a dark-colored four-door Sedan leaving Hatch Park on June 17 shortly after the Lyft driver. Detectives compared the vehicle on the video to the 2013 Kia Optima owned by Ajayi.

"The characteristics of the vehicle on the video are consistent with the shape, size, and general appearance of a Kia Optima," the warrant states.

On Tuesday, June 25, police released photos of Lueck at the Salt Lake City International Airport to the public, showing the clothes she was last known to be wearing. The FBI was contacted about her missing status.

The next day, officers surrounded Ajayi's Salt Lake City home and served search warrants. At first, officers only confirmed that the search was related to Lueck's disappearance. Court documents later revealed what police found that night.

A 6-foot by 7-inch area in the backyard was covered in a thin layer of mulch. A garden hose was dragged over the area and a piece of wood fencing had a smoke pattern in the shape of a wheelbarrow, which was found inside the garage.

A neighbor told police she saw large flames and smoke coming from Ajayi's yard "sometime last week," which she thought was possibly on Tuesday or Wednesday--June 18 or 19. The neighbor said she told Ajayi if he didn't call the fire department, then she would.

She also claimed to have seen Ajayi putting gas on the fire, dragging a hose toward the blaze, and making a phone call. She described the smell of the fire as “something I’ve never smelled before."

Police seized several electronic devices belonging to Ajayi and charred items believed to belong to Lueck from the Salt Lake City home.

“A certified cadaver dog was brought into the yard and almost immediately indicated on the area of the yard that had been disturbed at 19:24 hours," the warrant states. "An alleyway runs behind the property and items that appeared to be semi-burned were located just on the other side of the fence on Ayoola Ajayi’s yard. Those items included what looked like black clothing and a possible strap from a purse or backpack.”

The Crime Lab was able to develop a DNA profile and confirmed the muscle tissue samples taken from the backyard belonged to Lueck.

Ajayi was arrested in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 28 for charges of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, and desecration of a body.

A week later, Lueck's charred body was found and recovered from Logan Canyon, 85 miles from Salt Lake City. It was buried in a shallow grave with brush over it in a wooded area. Lueck's arms were bound behind her back with rope and she suffered blunt force trauma to the head, court documents state.

Police were able to locate the body based on phone records from Ajayi, which showed his cell pinged up the canyon after Lueck disappeared. Ajayi previously attended Utah State University, so he is familiar with the area, authorities said.

He's currently facing criminal charges in two other cases.

Ajayi is charged with aggravated kidnapping and three counts of forcible sexual assault after he allegeldy assaulted a woman he met on a dating app in 2018 while at Utah State University, according to charging documents.

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Nineteen counts of sexual exploitation of a minor were also filed against Ajayi after investigators found "numerous images of children engaged in sex acts" on his computer during their search for Lueck. The pictures are not related to Lueck's case, authorities have said. Ajayi plead not guilty to the charges.

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