BEND, Ore. — In the days following the death of Kaylee Sawyer in Bend last summer, suspected killer Edwin Lara confessed his involvement in her death to virtually everyone he encountered, according to a prosecutor, at one point saying he had an “urge to kill.”
That’s according to testimony given by a number of witnesses in court Monday. It was the first of five days of scheduled hearings to discuss the admissibility of evidence, specifically Lara’s apparent confession and the evidence that resulted from it.
Lara, 32, is charged with four counts of aggravated murder in the death of Sawyer, 23, on July 24. Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel is seeking the death penalty.
Monday’s hearing centered around Lara’s alleged California crime spree following the death of Sawyer.
Still to be discussed is an apparent confession he gave to Bend Police Department officers, and whether he was read his Miranda rights beforehand, or was denied an attorney after asking for one.
As with nearly all hearings in the case, a number of Sawyer’s friends and family were present in the courtroom Monday. A group huddled across the courtroom’s pew-like benches and prayed in anticipation of graphic testimony, which included a 15-minute 911 recording where Lara discussed Sawyer’s death.
Sawyer disappeared in the early morning hours of July 24 after a night in downtown Bend. After getting in an argument with her boyfriend during the ride home, Sawyer walked off from her house near Central Oregon Community College. Friends and family never saw her again.
At Monday’s hearing, Deschutes County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Gunnels said in his opening statement that Lara was at work that night as a security officer for the college. Gunnels said the scene of the killing was parking lot B12, a gravel lot high up on the hilly campus surrounded by juniper and sagebrush.
Investigators from the Central Oregon Major Crimes Team — made up of officers from various local law enforcement agencies — found drag marks and blood in the parking lot, Gunnels said. The drag marks led up the hill to a location in the brush where a significant amount of blood was found.
However, this is not where Sawyer’s body was found. Police believe Lara put Sawyer in the trunk of his car — where blood was also found —and transported her body to the location on state Highway 126 where it was found two days later. Police discovered it after Lara alerted them to a note he left in a car he abandoned in Salem.
The note three times had the number 18700, though there was no context. Police used the Deschutes County property information database to run the number, which turned up an address on Highway 126 between Sisters and Redmond.
Bend Police Lt. Brian Kindel testified that the body was dumped just off the side of the road and wasn’t covered with rocks or brush. He said a person could see Sawyer’s shoulder from the road side of the guardrail.
Lara fled to Salem after his then-wife, Isabel Ponce-Lara, confronted him the day after the killing, accusing him of acting weird.
Lara told her he hit a woman with his car and discarded the body, according to statements she made to Redmond Police Department Sgt. Bob Duff. He then grabbed a 9 mm handgun and left.
Ponce-Lara, at the time an officer in training for the Bend Police Department, went to the Redmond Police Department to report the crime. Upon searching the Ponce-Lara and Lara home, police found a white bag with Sawyer’s high-heel shoes, a purse containing her black wallet, a blood-stained rock and a clump of hair, according to testimony given Monday. Lara’s work boots were also found with blood on them.
At 12:22 p.m., Duff pinged Lara’s phone, which showed him in Redmond. A ping at 7 p.m. showed him in Salem.
According to an apparent confession from Lara played in court Monday, Lara drove to Salem and parked his car outside of a Ross Dress for Less store. He saw a woman, Aundreah Elizabeth Maes, and allegedly kidnapped her at gunpoint, making her drive him south to California in her car.
However, the car was leaking oil and broke down in Yreka, California.
In the early morning hours of July 26, Lara is alleged to have taken Maes and broken into Yreka Super 8 Motel room 108, where he found Jack Levy. Lara allegedly pulled a gun on Levy in an attempt to steal his car. When Levy called for help, Lara shot him in the abdomen and fled with Maes, according to court testimony. The entire encounter took place in 15 seconds.
Lara then fled with Maes about 150 yards to a gas station, Yreka Police Department Patrol Sgt. Ray Poutin said in court Monday.
Poutin, nearing the end of an overtime shift, responded to the hotel room. When a report came in shortly after of a carjacking and kidnapping at a nearby gas station, Poutin sent officer Kash Hasemeyer to cover it so he could stay back with Levy until an ambulance arrived.
Lara had allegedly stolen a car with a woman and her two teen grandsons inside. The father of the boys was still in the gas station store. Lara, with Maes in tow, allegedly drove the kidnapping victims about 15 miles south on Interstate 5.
The scene was far from ordinary for the small Yreka police department and the town’s 7,500 residents.
“We don’t normally have carjackings and shootings at the same time,” said Yreka Police Lt. David Gamache. Gamache got called in while off duty due to the incidents.
‘Urge to kill’
According to a statement from one of the teens Lara allegedly kidnapped, Lara began telling them about his alleged crime spree, when the teen’s brother told Lara he should not talk about the crimes. Lara allegedly ignored the advice and said he ran over a girl in Oregon and shot a man in Yreka. He told them he had an “urge to kill,” according to the boy’s statement.
Lara eventually dropped the family off and continued south with Maes into the Red Bluff area of Tehama County when he had a lengthy conversation with California Highway Patrol dispatcher Rebecca Dutton.
Lara called 911 after noticing police chasing behind him and a police helicopter following him from above. According to the 911 tape, played in court, Lara told Dutton he was traveling at 120 mph. He claimed he was ready to turn himself in.
Lara informed Dutton he was wanted for murder in Oregon for killing Sawyer, though he said it was an accident. He often talked in a nonchalant tone when discussing Sawyer’s death, but did apologize to Sawyer’s family and said he would reveal the location of the body in time.
After 13 minutes of Dutton trying to talk Lara into pulling over, he finally agreed to.
As he did so, he handed the phone to Maes. As Lara exited the car and went into police custody, Dutton explained to Maes, 19 at the time, how she could safely exit the vehicle without being injured by police. The words were muffled by Maes uncontrollable sobbing.
California Highway Patrol Sgt. Adam Battle, who assisted in taking Lara into custody, said Lara told him he should search his person better, as the first cop to pat him down missed a knife and a handcuff key. Battle said after removing the key and knife, Lara told him he was wanted for murder in Oregon and killed a man in Yreka. Lara didn’t know Levy had survived the shooting, according to Battle. Battle said this threw him off, as he had never encountered such a spontaneous admission of guilt in his 22 years in law enforcement
Lara also told Battle he was wearing body armor.
Battle asked why.
“I came to throw down,” Battle said on the stand, quoting Lara.
After this week, the hearings will continue on yet-to-be-scheduled dates in September, when more witnesses will testify. Deschutes County Circuit Judge A. Michael Adler is expected to rule on the admissibility of the evidence being discussed after the September testimony.
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com