Ayoola Ajayi, suspect in MacKenzie Lueck’s murder, expunged his Utah theft case, clearing his record

(Facebook) A photo of Ayoola Ajayi from his Facebook page that was uploaded in 2015. Ajayi, 31, was being booked into jail Friday, June 28, 2019, on suspicion of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, desecration of a body and obstruction of justice in the case of MacKenzie Lueck.

The 2012 report from Utah State University says police there wanted Ayoola Ajayi charged with a class B misdemeanor for stealing an iPad.

What happened after that has been a mystery in the three weeks since he was accused of kidnapping and killing MacKenzie Lueck in Salt Lake City, when reporters and investigators tried to reconstruct his background. Utah’s court database has no listing of charges being filed.

A piece of the puzzle was solved Wednesday. An employee who answered the phone at the Cache County jail confirmed its records on Ajayi had been expunged.

Cache County Attorney James Swink, whose office would have prosecuted the theft, also has said he and his staff have no record of the case. While Swink could not confirm whether Ajayi had received an expungement, the lack of documentation corroborates that Ajayi went through Utah’s legal process of having his prosecution erased from the public record.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ashley Fine speaks during a vigil for Mackenzie Lueck at the university in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 1, 2019. Friends and mourners gathered to remember Lueck, a Utah college student who was missing for nearly two weeks before police arrested a man accused of killing her and burying her charred remains in his backyard.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Ajayi, now 31, was convicted. Utah State Courts’ webpage on expungements explains that someone can have records of an arrest and investigation sealed even if there was no conviction.

But people convicted of crimes have more incentive to seek an expungement. Convictions, even for a misdemeanor offense like Ajayi was suspected of, can prevent people from gaining jobs, loans, serving in the military and obtaining concealed firearm permits.

People who knew Ajayi have said he carefully built an image of an educated professional. An expunged conviction would allowed Ajayi to say “the arrest or conviction did not happen,” according to the Utah State Courts. It also would have prevented the public, including Lueck, from finding any conviction in a public records search. No one has suggested knowledge of the theft case would have prevented Lueck’s murder.

Ajayi is from Nigeria. The Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office has said he is a legal resident of the United States, though no one has specified his exact immigration status.

There are mixed opinion on whether expunging a conviction would have helped Ajayi in any immigration or naturalization proceeding. Some legal guides say theft can be considered a crime of moral turpitude for which someone can be denied permanent residency. But class B misdemeanors carry up to six months in jail — below the threshold for deportation.

Some articles from immigration lawyers warn expungements for minor offenses can harm immigrants by sealing the records that can prove their crimes were trivial.

According to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, the state’s clearinghouse for criminal records, at least 4,866 people a year since 2016 have had their records expunged.

Under Utah’s expungement law, Ajayi could have sought to expunge the theft case in as little as 30 days after it was closed, if there was no conviction. If he was convicted of the class B misdemeanor, he would have had to wait four years after the completion of his sentence.

Legally, at least, Ajayi had no criminal record on June 17. Prosecutors and police have said that’s when he met Lueck, 23, at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake.

Charging documents say police found a burn pit and charred human bone in the backyard of Ajayi’s home in the Fairpark neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Investigators found Lueck’s body on July 3 in Logan Canyon after examining Ajayi’s cellphone records, which showed him traveling near the canyon on June 25 — more than a week after Lueck went missing and days after her friends, family and police began searching for her.

USU said Ajayi attended classes at USU off and on between 2009 and 2016, with a break in attendance between 2011 and 2015. He did not earn a degree.

July 22, 2012, campus police investigated the theft of an iPad, according to reports provided by the campus. The next day, USU technology staff found that someone was using the tablet to access the internet. Police found Ajayi using the iPad in the iconic academic building known as Old Main, a report says.

An officer searched the iPad’s web history and found that, though Ajayi was married, he accessed dating sites, listed himself as single and was pursuing “a female as a prospect to marry to keep from being deported.”

Ajayi was booked into the Cache County jail July 24, 2012, according to the USU reports.

So why can USU provide documentation of the theft case when the jail and prosecutor cannot?

If a court approves an expungement, the former suspect or defendant must serve a copy of the order upon all the law enforcement agencies involved. USU spokesman Tim Vitale, in an email Wednesday, said USU police received no notice that Ajayi received an expungement.