Missing Student Utah

Salt Lake City police take a man into custody in connection with missing University of Utah student MacKenzie Lueck in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 28, 2019. Salt Lake City police said the man was brought in Friday morning, but did not immediately provide further details. Lueck disappeared after taking a Lyft June 17 from the airport to a park. (Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News via AP)

Felony charges were filed Wednesday, July 10, against Ayoola Adisa Ajayi, the man suspected of killing El Segundo’s MacKenzie Lueck and burying her body in a forested area, authorities said.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office filed felony charges of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice, and desecration of a body against the 31-year-old Salt Lake City resident, District Attorney Sim Gill announced at a press conference.

He said it was too early to say whether his office will pursue the death penalty, but he did add: “That is a possibility that is here.”

The Salt Lake Legal Defender Association, which was appointed to represent Ajayi in court, put out a statement following the announcement of the charges:

“In accordance with constitutional principles, Mr. Ajayi is presumed to be innocent. The facts in this matter will be established in due course through the processes of the criminal justice system.”

The district attorney also shed new details on the case, including the cause of death, which the coroner determined to be blunt-force trauma to the left side of the skull.

Investigators can tell that the suspect’s and victim’s cellphones were at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake at about 3 a.m. on June 17, authorities have said. Lueck, a University of Utah senior, had taken a lift from Salt Lake City International Airport, after arriving from Southern California, to the park where she got into a car with Ajayi, authorities said.

Lueck’s last text message to Ajayi was at 2:58 a.m., Gill said on Wednesday, with her cellphone turned off a minute later and never turned back on.

Phone records placed Ajayi back at his home in the 500 block of North 1000 West at about 3:07 a.m., Gill said.

On June 26, while investigators searched Ajayi’s home in Salt Lake City, neighbors told them they had noticed more than a week before a horrible smell coming from a fire in Ajayi’s backyard and that he had poured gasoline on the fire.

Police searched a “fresh dig area” in his backyard, where they found belongings and charred human tissue consistent with Lueck’s DNA, authorities said. Items found included a human bone, a cellphone, charred muscle tissue and part of a scalp with hair, Gill said Wednesday.

In an adjacent alleyway, investigators found charred black fabric, buckles and other evidence, the district attorney said.

Ajayi was arrested two days later.

On July 3, authorities found Lueck’s charred body in Logan Canyon, roughly 80 miles north of Hatch Park. It was in a shallow grave, off of the main road and beneath a grove of trees.

Lueck’s arms had been tied behind her back using zip ties and rope, and investigators noticed a five-centimeter hole on the left side of her skull and part of her scalp missing, Gill said.

Ajayi’s cellphone placed him at Logan Canyon between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. on June 25, Gill said.

Authorities also took Ajayi’s vehicle and noticed a strong gasoline smell omitting from the trunk, Gill said. They found a red gas can in the trunk and investigators found a similar can had been purchased by Ajayi at a Smith’s Marketplace about 9 a.m., June 17, Gill said. That purchase was made six hours after Lueck’s phone was powered off.

Gill said Lueck and Ajayi had been in contact through messaging, but would not go into detail about the nature of those messages.

“This continues to be an ongoing, active investigation,” Gill said. “In a case such as this, you are constantly working. Our perseverance, our diligence and our responsibility as public prosecutors and law enforcement does not finish by the mere filing of the charges.

“There is a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

Contact Lisa Jacobs lisa.jacobs@TBRnews.com or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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