Man Charged in Death of Mackenzie Lueck Appears in Court For First Time

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
July 16, 2019USshare
Man Charged in Death of Mackenzie Lueck Appears in Court For First Time
Attorney Neal Hamilton (L) stands with Ayoola A. Ajayi during his video preliminary hearing at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City on July 15, 2019. (Steve Griffin/Deseret News, via AP Photo, Pool)

The alleged killer of a slain Utah college student made his first court appearance July 15. The suspect, 31-year-old Ayoola A. Ajayi, is charged with murder in the death of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck.

Ajayi, a tech worker, faces charges of aggravated murder, kidnapping, obstruction of justice, and desecration of a body. He appeared by video next to a court-appointed attorney for a quick hearing to set a future court date.

Lueck, 23, was last seen on June 17 and was reported missing on June 20 by her family.

Missing Student Utah
A joggers runs past a poster of Mackenzie Lueck at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on June 24, 2019. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

Police found Lueck’s body, with arms bound behind her, in a shallow grave in Logan Canyon on July 3, about 85 miles from Ajayi’s home.

Investigators had earlier found human tissue that matched Lueck’s DNA in the backyard of Ayaji’s home in Salt Lake City.

Police work at scene Utah 1
Police investigators remove multiple bags of evidence during their search of a home in Salt Lake City as part of the disappearance of University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck that carried on into the early hours of June 27, 2019. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
Salt Lake City police investigate a tip t
Salt Lake City police investigate a tip that may be connected to the disappearance of Mackenzie Lueck in Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 26, 2019. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Prosecutors say that Lueck suffered blunt-force trauma to the head and died from the resultant internal bleeding, local outlet KSL reported.

Ajayi did not speak nor enter a plea to his charges at the brief court appearance.

Neal Hamilton, Ajayi’s court-appointed attorney, didn’t comment on the charges, and the public defender’s office has said it will not be commenting on the case.

Authorities have not discussed a motive or any suspected link between Lueck and Ajayi.

It’s not clear how the two knew one another previously.

Mackenzie Lueck
This undated photo provided by Kennedy Stoner shows herself (L) posing with Mackenzie Lueck and Grace Peterson. (Kennedy Stoner via AP)

Friends Mourn

Lueck’s friends said after the hearing that they’re relieved that a suspect is behind bars. They also said that seeing Ajayi by video in court was shocking, sad, and enraging.

One friend, Ashley Fine, said they don’t plan to say his name or give him any attention moving forward, but are following the legal process to make sure Lueck gets justice.

Ashley Fine and Kennedy Stoner, close friends of missing person Mackenzie Lueck,
Ashley Fine and Kennedy Stoner, close friends of missing person Mackenzie Lueck, speak during a press conference outside the Salt Lake City Police Department in Salt Lake City, on June 23, 2019. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

“We are all still in extreme shock. Even right now I feel like I could call her and text her and she would answer,” Fine said. “We didn’t get to say goodbye to our friend.”

They said they still don’t know why Lueck was chosen, or whether the killing was planned. They said they don’t know how she and Ajayi might have been connected.

“What did she do to deserve this?” another friend, Kennedy Stoner, asked

Mackenzie Lueck
Mackenzie Lueck, 23, is seen leaving the departure area at Salt Lake City International Airport. (Salt Lake City Airport/PD via CNN)

Sudden Disappearance

Lueck went missing in the early hours of June 17, shortly after she returned from a trip to her California hometown.

She had taken a Lyft from the airport to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake. She had exchanged text messages with Ajayi.

Cellphone data obtained by the police placed Ayoola Ajayi, 31, at the park at the same time.

Lueck’s phone was turned off a minute after the last text and never turned back on, prosecutors said.

NTD Photo
Salt Lake City police take Ayoola A. Ajayi into custody in connection with missing University of Utah student MacKenzie Lueck in Salt Lake City on June 28, 2019. (Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News via AP)

Ajayi is an information technology worker and was briefly in the Army National Guard. A native of Nigeria, Ajayi holds a green card that allows him to legally work and live in the United States, prosecutors have said.

He has no formal criminal history but was investigated in a 2014 rape allegation and was arrested in a stolen iPad case at Utah State University in 2012.  He was then banned from the campus for about three years after his arrest and his student visa becoming expired.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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