Woman won’t be forced to testify in sex assault case for man also charged in Mackenzie Lueck’s death

Woman won’t be forced to testify in sex assault case for man also charged in Mackenzie Lueck’s death

(Kristin Murphy, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A woman who says she was sexually assaulted by the man later charged in the death of Utah college student Mackenzie Lueck will not be required to testify against him ahead of a possible trial.

Third District Judge Vernice Trease sided with prosecutors and the woman’s attorney Wednesday, finding Utah’s victim rights law protects the woman from being forced to take the stand at a remaining portion of a preliminary hearing next week.

Lawyers for Ayoola Adisa Ajayi, 31, had argued their client has a right to confront his accuser in court and they should be able to cross-examine the woman.

That’s true at the trial stage, but not at the earlier preliminary hearing, which is designed to determine whether there is enough evidence for the sexual assault case to move forward, Trease said.

“I think those are the very things that are covered by the victim rights amendment,” the judge added.

Laurel Hanks, the woman’s attorney, said her client had been worried as she awaited the judge’s decision.

“You add the trauma of coming to court to what she’s already been through, and it’s very difficult. We’re very glad for Judge Trease’s ruling today,” Hanks said. She and prosecutors had argued a statement the woman submitted meets the standard of probable cause that is required for the case to move forward. Requiring her to testify at the early stage, they said, would amount to harassment.

The woman had signed a two-page document detailing how she says Ajayi assaulted her while they watched a movie in his Salt Lake City home, then tried to prevent her from leaving. KSL typically does not name victims of sexual assault.

Utah allows victims in alleged crimes to submit a statement in place of testimony at a preliminary hearing, but the question of whether they can then be summoned to the stand has not been settled.

The Utah Court of Appeals currently is considering the question in a separate case, where defense attorneys are seeking to question a child who told investigators she was raped.

Most times, judges in Utah make the same call Trease did and grant prosecutors’ motion to quash a subpoena, Hanks said.

But some do not. In Vernal’s 8th District Court, for example, Judge Douglas Thomas ruled in favor of the defense on Friday. He allowed a man’s attorneys to call the victim of an alleged rape to testify at the preliminary hearing, after which he ordered the defendant to stand trial, court records show.

Ajayi’s defense attorney Neal Hamilton declined comment after the hearing. He has previously argued the woman’s statements to police differ from her version of events that was entered into evidence in September.

His client has not yet entered pleas to the charges of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and three counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

Originally from Nigeria, Ajayi has been jailed since June on charges in a separate case including aggravated murder, a capital offense. He has not entered any pleas in that case, either.

In that case, prosecutors have charged him with killing Lueck and setting fire to her body in June. A preliminary hearing is set for March. Investigators learned about the assault allegation, which predates Lueck’s death by more than a year, as they gathered evidence in the homicide.

Lueck met Ajayi early on the morning of June 17 at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake and the two went to Ajayi’s house, investigators said. Her charred remains were found by police in a shallow grave in Logan Canyon on July 3.

In a third criminal case, Ajayi faces 19 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony, after police said they found child pornography on devices seized from his home during the murder investigation.

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