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SALT LAKE CITY — A tech worker pleaded guilty in the death of a Utah college student Wednesday, more than a year after her disappearance sparked a large-scale search that ended with the discovery of her charred remains in his backyard. 

Ayoola A. Ajayi is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the death of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck. He pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and desecration of a corpse in an agreement with prosecutors that took the possibility of the death penalty off the table. 

She went missing in June 2019, after returning from a trip home to El Segundo, California, for her grandmother’s funeral. Lueck exchanged text messages with Ajayi, 32, and took a Lyft to meet him in a park, apparently willingly, prosecutors have said.

Her phone was turned off a minute after the last text and never turned back on, charges state.

Her disappearance sparked a search that went on for nearly two weeks before some of her remains were discovered in Ajayi’s backyard and he was arrested. Her body was later found dumped in a canyon, with her arms bound. 

Ajayi was an information technology worker who had stints with high-profile companies and was briefly in the Army National Guard.

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Authorities have not discussed a motive for the killing or how they knew each other. Ajayi said little at Wednesday’s hearing, where he appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit, glasses and blue surgical mask. 

A native of Nigeria, Ajayi held a green card that allows him to legally work and live in the U.S., prosecutors have said. 

Lueck has been remembered as a bubbly, nurturing person. She was a member of a sorority and a part-time senior at the University of Utah studying kinesiology and pre-nursing.

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