By Aubrey Wieber
Court testimony Tuesday poked holes in accused murderer Edwin Lara’s statement to have accidentally backed over Kaylee Sawyer in a remote parking lot on the Central Oregon Community College campus before killing her because she would not stop screaming.
During a sixth day of hearings to determine what evidence will be admissible at trial, testimony instead supported Lara having encountered Sawyer in a different part of the college campus before taking her to lot B12, where evidence of a violent crime — blood and drag marks — were found.
Lara, 32, is charged with four counts of aggravated murder for the death of Sawyer, 23, and is facing the death penalty.
The former COCC security officer was on duty during the early hours of July 24, when police said he encountered Sawyer on campus. Lara is accused of killing and attempting to sexually assault Sawyer.
Lara is also accused of fleeing to Salem and kidnapping Aundreah Elizabeth Maes at gunpoint then taking her to California, where he allegedly shot a man in the chest, carjacked and kidnapped a family and evaded police during a high-speed chase on July 26, when he was arrested.
In Deschutes County Circuit Court on Tuesday, the prosecution played an audio recording of an interview Bend Police Officer Lisa Nelson had with Lara’s co-worker, Steve Craig. Lara called Craig, a former Bend police officer, on the morning of July 26 before he was arrested.
Craig told Nelson that Lara confessed to accidentally backing into and running over Sawyer while preparing lot B12 for a bicycle race. Craig said Lara told him he then put Sawyer in his car, and killed her because she would not stop screaming.
However, Craig told Nelson he didn’t believe this version of events. He said the bicycle race did not go through B12, and Lara would have no reason to be there. Also, B12 is a remote gravel lot at the top of the COCC campus that is rarely used or traveled through, according to testimony.
While questioning former COCC interim Director Of Campus Public Safety Jim Bennett, Deschutes County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Anderson asked a question that also casts doubt on Lara’s version of events.
Anderson asked Bennett about office protocol for officers reporting encounters with the public. Anderson asked if it would be against policy if an officer were to put someone in a campus safety vehicle and transport the person to lot B12 and not make a notation of that or tell another officer of it. Bennett said yes.
Bennett also testified that the car Lara had checked out that night was one of the few that had a police-style cage in it separating the front and back seats.
Bennett testified that Lara accessed multiple buildings several times between 12:52 a.m. and 2:03 a.m. with electronic and traditional keys.
Previous testimony has stated Sawyer left from her apartment complex on foot after getting in an argument with her boyfriend on July 24, and was texting her boyfriend until about 1 a.m., when all contact ceased.
Anderson asked Bennett if the Mazama building had a gym with showers in it, to which he responded it did.
Tuesday’s testimony fell in line with previous testimony that did not support Lara’s version of events, including that investigators did not find any damage consistent with hitting or running over a person after looking at Lara’s work vehicle.
Investigators have also testified that Lara gave two versions of what happened the night Sawyer was killed, but have only described one of them: That Lara hit Sawyer with his car and killed her.
Tuesday’s hearing was an extension of testimony that started July 10. Lara’s defense team is trying to keep a statement Lara gave to Central Oregon investigators after his arrest out of the trial, scheduled for October 2018. Prosecutors said Tuesday evening that they expect to call three or four more witnesses. The hearings are scheduled to end Thursday.
Other notable testimony Tuesday came from Bend Police Department Detective Timothy Knea, who found Sawyer’s body.
After Lara drew a map to the location of the body for Central Oregon investigators during an interrogation the day he was arrested, Knea responded to the scene on state Highway 126 between Redmond and Sisters near mile post 100.
Knea testified he parked his car and sprinted along the guardrail looking for Sawyer’s body.
He estimated it took him one to two minutes to find her remains — and he initially thought she was alive.
Knea testified Sawyer’s hands and feet were stretched out in a way that made it look as though she was trying to crawl up the embankment on the side of the highway.
When he reached her, he checked her wrist and neck for a pulse, but did not find one. Knea said Sawyer was in a state of undress and that he found a black and blue scrap of her underwear near her.
“When I touched her skin it wasn’t supple,” he testified. “It didn’t feel like she was alive or had recent life.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, email@example.com