A 32-year-old Salt Lake City man will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of MacKenzie Lueck, a 23-year-old University of Utah student from El Segundo who went missing for weeks before she was found dead and buried in a shallow grave in July 2019.
Ayoola Adisa Ajayi mostly kept his head down or straight forward during a nearly hour-long sentencing hearing in Utah’s 3rd District Court before he was handed the sentence by Judge Vernice Trease Friday, Oct. 23.
Ajayi was sentenced more than 16 months after Lueck was last seen in the early morning hours on June 17, 2019. He pleaded guilty on Oct. 7 2020 to aggravated murder and desecration of a human body in a plea deal that allowed him to avoid the death penalty.
Lueck graduated from El Segundo High School in 2014 and played varsity water polo. She was in her senior year in Utah, majoring in kinesiology and pre-nursing.
Four of her family members tearfully spoke during the sentencing hearing and described Lueck as kind-hearted, loving, strong and never afraid to stand up for others in need or make people feel included.
Her cousins Chloe and Carly Stephens said they had just talked about life with Lueck during her visit home for their grandmother’s funeral. She had a bright future ahead, they said.
Her parents said their dreams of being able to watch their daughter graduate, start her career, get married and start a family were taken away by Ajayi’s selfish actions.
“Instead of planning her graduation ceremony, I planned her funeral,” her mother, Diana Lueck said. “We will never be able to watch her grow and mature into the woman she was supposed to be.”
Greg Lueck said he’d waited a long time to confront his daughter’s killer.
“I have no compassion for you, as you had no compassion for my daughter,” he said. “It comforts me to know you will no longer be a threat to anyone. I hope you spend the rest of your life in isolation.”
Deputy District Attorney Marc Mathis said while most homicides have clear motives, this one did not. The only conclusion was that Ajayi simply wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone, he said.
“Tragically for MacKenzie Lueck and her family, he chose her,” Mathis said. “This was murder, for murder’s sake.”
Ajayi masked himself in online dating profiles as a gentleman to lure women such as Lueck, the prosecutor said. Detectives looked into Ajayi after uncovering messages on a dating app. Both Lueck’s and Ajayi’s cell phones placed them at a park within a minute of each other on June 17, 2019.
Lueck landed at Salt Lake City International Airport at about 2 a.m. that morning after visiting family in Los Angeles to attend her grandmother’s funeral. About an hour later, she was dropped off by a rideshare driver at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake, where she met up with Ajayi.
The two had made plans to meet there while chatting on the app. However, Ajayi admitted in his plea agreement that he had decided to kill Lueck prior to meeting her at the park. Why he made that decision remains unknown.
From the park, the two went to Ajayi’s Salt Lake City home, where he tied her hands behind her back and choked her with both his hands and a belt until she stopped moving, the document said.
Lueck was reported missing, June 20, after she missed an exam at the university.
Salt Lake City investigators served a search warrant at Ajayi’s home on June 26, where they found belongings and human tissue consistent with Lueck’s DNA in a freshly dug area in the backyard, authorities said.
Investigators took his car and found a gas can in the trunk, which they later discovered had been purchased from a store hours after Lueck was last seen.
The following day, a contractor told police he had a strange encounter with Ajayi regarding renovations to his basement – which were to include soundproofing, large hooks on the wall, a secret entrance and a thumbprint security system – two months before police searched the home. The contractor turned down the job.
Ajayi was arrested June 28 and later, through his attorneys, gave prosecutors the location of her body, according to the plea agreement. He also admitted throwing other belongings of hers into the Jordan River.
Ajayi initially buried Lueck in the backyard, but exhumed her body after investigators initially questioned him about her disappearance, according to the document. He drove roughly 80 miles north to bury her in a remote area in Logan Canyon.
Lueck’s body was found July 3 with her hands still tied behind her back and with noticeable blunt force trauma to the left side of her head, authorities said.
As part of the plea deal, a separate child pornography case was dropped, but Ajayi did accept a charge of forcible sexual abuse in another separate kidnapping case. Charges of kidnapping and obstruction of justice in the Lueck case were also dropped.
Ajayi, born in Nigeria, spent six months in the Utah Army National Guard but did not attend basic training, had attended Utah State University on three separate occasions without graduating and had authored a novel, “Forge Identity,” which briefly sold on Amazon before it was removed following the announcement of his arrest.
In a brief statement in court, Ajayi apologized to the Luecks and said he deserved the sentence that was handed to him.
“I know this won’t bring her back, but I pray that God forgives me for what I did to you,” he said.