EUGENE — The killer of Kaylee Sawyer, of Bend, will serve a second life sentence in prison for a kidnapping and carjacking that a federal judge on Thursday called “a brutal crime spree.”
Edwin Enoc Lara, 34, is serving a life sentence on his state conviction in January 2018 for abducting and murdering Sawyer in July 2016. At the time, Lara was a security guard at Central Oregon Community College.
In exchange for pleading guilty Thursday in federal court in Eugene, U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane approved an agreement that Lara’s second life sentence would be served concurrently — at the same time — as the state conviction.
In his presentation before the sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan J. Lichvarcik described Lara as “one of the most dangerous men who has walked through this courthouse.”
The federal case dealt with Lara’s actions after he killed Sawyer. He fled to Salem, where he kidnapped Aundreah Elizabeth Maes, then 19, and drove her gold Volvo 850 to California.
In Yreka, Lara shot a 73-year-old man in the stomach when he refused to give Lara his car. Lara then commandeered another vehicle occupied by two young men and their 76-year-old grandmother.
After bragging about the murder of Sawyer, he released everyone but Maes on the side of a highway.
Driving at speeds of 100 mph, he used her cellphone to make a video he titled “Murderer on the loose and kidnapped” and forced Maes to post it on Facebook. Maes told investigators she was able to quickly change the privacy settings on her Facebook account to limit the distribution of the video.
Near Redding, Lara called 911 and told the dispatcher he was wanted for murder, had a gun and was wearing body armor. Lara was apprehended by California Highway Patrol.
Details of Lara’s crimes were contained in a sentencing memorandum released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Jamie and Crystal Sawyer, Kaylee’s father and stepmother, attended the sentencing in Eugene.
“We’re here to support Aundreah,” Jamie Sawyer said. “She has been through a lot.”
Lara was brought into the courtroom wearing a yellow and orange striped prison uniform.
Lichvarcik outlined Lara’s crimes, saying that he had wounded many lives.
“It cuts deep; it cuts wide,” Lichvarcik said.
Lichvarcik praised Maes for enduring the 10-hour ordeal with Lara.
“He hunted her, caught her, and terrorized her,” he said. “She stared into the eyes of a murderer and didn’t blink.”
Maes decided to make a statement to the court. Lara stared away at a wall as she spoke.
“You thought you stole my life from me,” she said. “I am not a victim. I am a survivor, a warrior. I’m stronger now than I have ever been, and you are going to rot.”
Mark Sabitt, Lara’s attorney, said his client had endured a difficult life. Born in Honduras and later living in Mexico, Lara emigrated to the United States.
Lara dropped out of Madras High School, but earned his GED and an associate degree in criminal justice from COCC.
Sabbit called Lara’s crimes “an enigma” for a man he said was “deeply religious” and regrets his actions.
“The defendant is deeply remorseful,” Sabbit said.
Sabbit argued against prosecutors’ portrayal of Lara.
“The government says he’s got an urge to kill, that he’s a psychopath,” he said.
Sabbit said an alternative explanation could be that Lara has a “neuro-cognitive disability” that was passed down from his mother.
“He’s got the gene for it,” Sabbit said.
Sabbit said adding a second life sentence was redundant.
“It’s virtually certain he will die in prison,” he said.
But Lichvarcik said the second life sentence was important to ensure that any change in state law or court decision wouldn’t set Lara free.
McShane asked Lara a series of questions to make sure he understood he was giving up his right to trial, was fully aware of where he was, was sober, knew what was happening, and made the decision without coercion.
“Yes,” Lara said to each question.
McShane said that before handing down his decision on the sentence, Lara had a right to address the court. McShane said it was the choice of the victims and their families whether to remain in the courtroom or wait outside. Both Maes and her family and the Sawyers walked out.
In a halting monotone broken up by long pauses, Lara said he thought about his crimes every day.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” he said. “I could have stopped it. I don’t know what happened.”
Lara referred to what Sabbit had called his difficult upbringing, including living in gang territory in Los Angeles.
“I don’t cry anymore because I am tired of crying,” Lara said. “I’ve been crying for the past 20 years.”
McShane, with a slight quaver in his voice, started to reproach Lara for his statement.
“It’s all about you,” McShane said. “But I’m not going to lecture you.”
The Maes and Sawyer families returned to the courtroom.
McShane said his decision would be based solely on Lara’s actions toward Maes.
“You expressed to her an urge that you had to kill others,” McShane said. “It happened in the context of a brutal crime spree that included the kidnapping and murder of Kaylee Sawyer, the shooting of an elderly man, the kidnapping of a family at gunpoint.”
McShane said that even though normal sentencing guidelines called for a maximum 20 years sentence, the totality of the circumstances required a stronger punishment.
“These events lead me to the conclusion that you are an extreme danger to the community,” McShane said. “I sentence you to life.”
After the hearing, Jamie and Crystal Sawyer said that the outcome was another step in seeking justice for Kaylee. The Senate this week passed legislation called “Kaylee’s Law” that would help prevent future incidents of a campus security guard being able to look or act like a law enforcement officer. The bill is in the House.
Jamie Sawyer said he was proud that Maes chose to speak to the court.
“She’s fighting for all the other victims,” he said. “She spoke up in the face of evil.”
The next legal step is the final court case in Siskiyou County, California on state charges involving the shooting and abductions in northern California.
“We’ll be there,” Jamie Sawyer said. “We are going to see this through to the end.”
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, firstname.lastname@example.org