The family of slain University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck confronted her killer in court more than a year after the 23-year-old's remains were found burned in his backyard.
On Friday, the Lueck family told Ayoola Ajayi they would never forgive him for what he had done. He was then sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
"I'm not sure you even have anything to look forward to in the afterlife, if you believe in that," Gregory Lueck said, the Associated Press reports. "My daughter Mackenzie Lueck was a sweet, amazing young lady with the world ahead of her. She was a kindhearted person that cared about others. Now, I will not have the opportunity to see her blossom in life."
Mackenzie's cousin, Carly Stephens, called Ajayi "a monster."
"This is a nightmare you can't wake up from. I will never be able to forgive what happened to her. I will never forgive the monster who took her life," Stephens said through tears. "Never in my life have I felt anger the way I have the last 16 months. Never have I been so fearful for my life because I know how real evil is in this world."
Earlier this month, Ajayi pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and desecration of a corpse. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped the possibility of the death penalty. He apologized to the family in a short statement.
"Mr. and Mrs. Lueck, I'm sorry for what I did. I deserve what I'm going to get," he said. "I know this won't bring her back."
Lueck was last seen June 17, 2019, and her family reported her missing June 20. She disappeared after taking a Lyft to a Salt Lake City park from the airport after arriving back from her grandmother's funeral in her hometown of El Segundo, Calif. At the park, she met up with a person in another vehicle. Authorities later identified the mystery driver was Ajayi, who Leuck met on a dating app.
Ajayi admitted to planning Leuck's death before they even had met at the park. When they returned to his Salt Lake City home, Ajayi tied Leuck up and choked her. When Lueck tried to fight back, Ajayi pushed her to the ground and used a belt to strangle her.
Her remains were later found charred in his backyard and also in a shallow grave in a canyon nearly 100 miles north.
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While a motive for Lueck's death remains unknown, on Friday Salt Lake prosecutors said it appears Ajayi just wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.
"The only conclusion that the evidence can suggest is that Ayoola Ajayi simply wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone," deputy Salt Lake County district attorney Marc Mathis said, KSL reports. "Tragically, for Mackenzie Lueck and her family, he chose her. This was murder for murder's sake."