SALT LAKE CITY — Aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body. These are the charges officially filed against a Salt Lake City man in the murder of 23-year-old University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced those charges Wednesday, days after Utah’s Third District Court granted an extension to the prosecutor’s office to continue building a case.
Lueck disappeared on June 17 after returning to Salt Lake from a trip to her home state of California to attend a funeral. Police say after she landed early that morning, she took a Lyft ride to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake. The Lyft driver told police she met someone there and got into a vehicle without any signs of distress.
Gill said investigators discovered Lueck’s last text, on the morning of June 17, was sent at 2:58 a.m. to the phone of Ayoola Ajayi, 31. At 2:59, Gill said her phone was then later powered off and did not come back on.
Police said phone records placed Lueck in the park at the same time as Ajayi, who also once rented an apartment near the park. Gill said phone records showed Ajayi was at his home in Salt Lake City’s Fairpark neighborhood just a few minutes later, by around 3:07 a.m.
As their investigation continued, police searched that home, where they found evidence including charred personal items and human “muscular tissue” that Gill said fit the DNA profile of Lueck. A neighbor told investigators Ajayi poured gasoline and burned something in his backyard that produced a “horrible smell.”
According to the charging documents filed Wednesday, police noticed a strong smell of gasoline in the trunk of Ajayi’s car when they searched the home.
“Inside the trunk was a red gasoline can,” the charges stated. “Further investigation revealed that Ajayi purchased a similar gas can at Smith’s” at around 9:00 a.m. on June 17, or about six hours after Lueck was last seen.
Thursday, Gill elaborated on what police found behind the home, in what he described as a “freshly-dug site:” a piece of bone, part of a human scalp with hair, and a burned cell phone, among other items and evidence.
Last week, Police Chief Mike Brown confirmed investigators recovered Lueck’s body from Logan Canyon, nearly 80 miles from where she was last seen, 18 days after her initial disappearance. During the news conference announcing charges, Gill said phone records placed Ajayi’s phone in Logan Canyon on June 25. Shortly thereafter, detectives found her charred remains just of the main road in a shallow grave.
“Mackenzie’s arms were bound behind her back with a zip tie and rope,” Gill said.
A medical examiner determined the cause of death to be blunt force trauma.
Gill choked up and paused to collect himself as he spoke about talking with Lueck’s family. He told reporters they were truly grateful for the outpouring of love from the community throughout the search for Lueck and the investigation.
As to the suspect now facing formal charges, Gill said he still has the right to a presumption of innocence, and indicated the investigation is far from over.
“No deals have been made whatsoever,” Gill said.