Oregon college safety officer pleads guilty to killing woman
BEND, Ore. (AP) — A man accused of killing a woman during his shift as a campus safety officer at an Oregon community college pleaded guilty Monday to aggravated murder.
Edwin Lara accepted a plea deal that spared him a possible death sentence but will keep him in prison for life. Authorities said Lara kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed Kaylee Sawyer, 23, in July 2016.
He then kidnapped a woman in the state capital of Salem and drove to California, where he was accused of shooting and wounding a man and carjacking a vehicle, police said.
In his plea, Lara acknowledged holding Sawyer in the back of his security vehicle, where he strangled and then killed her with a large rock.
His sentencing began just after his plea, with prosecutor Mary Anderson telling the packed courtroom that Lara will serve a life sentence with no chance for parole.
Members of Sawyer’s family gave emotional statements, with her grandfather, Jim Waldren, saying he hoped Lara would rot, The Bulletin newspaper reported .
Sawyer and her boyfriend lived on the edge of Central Oregon Community College and she had gone for a walk on July 24, 2016, shortly after midnight. Lara, uniformed and equipped with pepper spray, handcuffs and a ballistics vest, was working a night shift.
Lara’s wife, Isabel Ponce-Lara, later noticed that her husband was “acting out of the ordinary,” according to a statement she made to police in their hometown of Redmond, just north of Bend.
Ponce-Lara, who had recently became a Bend police officer, told investigators she confronted her husband and that he broke down and told her he struck Sawyer with his patrol vehicle, killing her, and then panicked and hid the body.
Ponce-Lara said her husband then grabbed a pistol and fled. Sawyer’s body was later found in a canyon west of Redmond.
Lara traveled 130 miles to Salem and took a 19-year-old woman hostage as she left her job at a clothing store, police say. They went to Yreka, California, where he’s accused of shooting and wounding a man at a motel.
The carjacking occurred at a gas station with a woman and her two sons inside the vehicle. They were later released along Interstate 5 before the car was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol.