EUGENE, Ore. - (Update: Federal life sentence imposed; victim, Assistant U.S. attorney comment)
Former Central Oregon Community College campus security officer Edwin Enoc Lara, 34, already sentenced to life in the brutal murder of Kaylee Sawyer, was sentenced Thursday in a Eugene federal courtroom to a second life prison term for kidnapping and carjacking a Salem woman as he fled Central Oregon after the 2016 killing.
“Edwin Lara is a ruthless killer who will rightfully spend the rest of his life in prison,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “There is simply no place in civil society for this type of horrific violence. I sincerely hope Lara’s two life sentences will bring some measure of comfort to his victims and their families. Their courage and perseverance throughout Lara’s lengthy state and federal cases are an inspiration to the entire law enforcement community.”
According to court documents, between July 24 and July 26, 2016, Lara went on a violent crime spree that left multiple victims and their families in its wake. Early on the morning of July 24, 2016, Lara brutally murdered Sawyer, a crime for which he would later receive a life sentence in Deschutes County Circuit Court.
After the murder, on July 25, 2016, Lara fled to Salem, where he carjacked and kidnapped a young woman at gunpoint. Lara told his victim he was a police officer and showed her news reports about what he had done to Kaylee Sawyer. He then forced her to travel with him to California.
Along the way, Lara decided to stop at a hotel in Cottage Grove, Inside the hotel room, Lara handcuffed his victim, forced her to take sleeping pills and made a series of physical advances, leading her to believe he might sexually assault her.
A short while later, after receiving a phone call and growing concerned that law enforcement was nearing his location, Lara left the hotel with his victim and continued traveling toward California. At some point during the drive, Lara sought to change vehicles to avoid detection and stopped at two rest areas looking for another vehicle to steal.
In the early morning hours on July 26, Lara stopped at a motel in Yreka, California, where he spotted an elderly man near his vehicle. Lara parked, grabbed his victim by the hand and approached the man. With his gun visible, Lara told the man that he needed his vehicle. When the man wouldn’t comply, Lara shot him in the abdomen.
At this point, Lara’s victim pleaded with him to let her go, but he again grabbed her hand and forced her to flee with him by foot to a nearby gas station.
At the gas station, Lara found his next victims, two young men and their elderly grandmother, sitting inside a vehicle. After threatening to shoot them, Lara entered their vehicle with his Oregon victim and forced them to drive off.
During the drive, Lara confessed to his victims that he had an “urge to kill” and had already murdered a young woman in Bend and shot a man in Yreka. Lara eventually dropped his three California victims on the side of the road, again threatened to kill them and continued driving southbound with his Oregon victim. Soon after, California law enforcement caught up with Lara and arrested him.
On November 16, 2016, a federal grand jury in Eugene returned a four-count indictment charging Lara with one count each of kidnapping and carjacking, and two counts of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Prior to sentencing, Lara pleaded guilty Thursday to the kidnapping and carjacking charges before U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane.
McShane veered from sentencing guidelines to issue the life sentence for what he called Lara's "brutal crime spree." Lara's defense lawyer, Mark Sabitt, had argued that the federal sentence was unnecessary.
The Oregonian reported that Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan J. Lichvarcik called Lara “one of the most dangerous men who has walked through this courthouse.’’
The prosecutor said Lara deserved a metaphorical “federal lock’’ on his prison door in the unforeseen case that his state true life term was ever overturned or shortened through a future challenge.
Lichvarcik said the victim in the case must be “absolutely certain that he will never step foot freely on this earth.’’
Aundreah Elizabeth Maes, sitting between her mother and the prosecutor, addressed the judge briefly during the hearing after Lara leaded guilty to her carjacking and kidnapping.
“You thought you stole my life from me, but I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor … I’m a warrior,’’ she said. “I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and you’re going to rot where you belong.’’
U.S. Department of Justice Kevin Sonoff said later, "We are pleased with this morning’s outcome and very proud of the victim. She showed tremendous resolve throughout the case, including courageously sharing her thoughts and feelings in court today."
This case was investigated by the Redmond Police Department, Bend Police Department, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police and other local law enforcement agencies in California with the assistance of the FBI. It was prosecuted by Nathan J. Lichvarcik, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
The case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). PSN is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
Nearly 18 months after Edwin Lara was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the brutal 2016 murder of Kaylee Sawyer, the former campus security officer faces sentencing to a likely second life term Thursday in Eugene on federal charges for carjacking a young Salem woman. That was the start of his subsequent violent crime spree from the Willamette Valley to Northern California.
Early last year, Lara pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in the killing of Sawyer, 23, on the Central Oregon Community College campus in Bend on July 24, 2016. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, avoiding the death sentence prosecutors would have sought at trial.
Police said that after Lara assaulted Sawyer and fatally bludgeoned her on the head with a large rock, he put her body in the trunk of his car and dumped it in a canyon west of Redmond, where it was found two days later.
Police found the body after Lara told them of a note he had left in a car he abandoned in Salem. The note included a number -- 18700 — three times, which led to a property database search and turned up an address on Highway 126 west of Redmond.
He ditched his vehicle in Salem but left a note apologizing to Sawyer's father and mother and stating he had only wanted to silence Sawyer, but not forever. He also wrote he killed Sawyer in the COCC parking lot and ended the note by saying he would forever love his wife.
Lara has been serving his life sentence at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario. Federal prosecutors are recommending a concurrent life sentence, served in state prison.
According to Lara’s post-arrest statement, Lara drove to Salem and parked outside a Ross Dress for Less Store. he saw a woman, Aundreah Elizabeth Maes, 19, and allegedly kidnapped her at gunpoint, making her drive him south to California in her car. But it was leaking oil and broke down in Yreka.
Early on July 26, 2016, Lara allegedly took Maes and broke into Room 108 of the Yreka Super 8 motel, where he pulled a gun on Jack Levy in an attempt to steal his car. When Levy called for help, Lara shot him in the abdomen and fled with Maes, prosecutors said.
Lara then took Maes to a nearby gas station, where he stole a car with a woman and her two teen grandsons inside, while the boys’ father was in the gas station store.
Lara, still with Maes, allegedly drove the kidnap victims 15 miles south on Interstate 5. One of the boys said Lara told them he had an “urge to kill," something he was heard saying several times.
Lara eventually dropped off the family and continued south with Maes into the Red Bluff area, calling 911 after noting police behind him and a police helicopter following him from above. He claimed he was ready to turn himself in. He also said he was wanted for murder in Oregon for killing Sawyer, though he called it an accident.
After offering an apology to Sawyer’s family and telling the dispatcher he’d reveal the body’s location later, he agreed to pull over, handing the phone to a sobbing Maes.
A 24-page federal sentencing memorandum refers to Maes only as “Adult Victim 1” and said “Lara terrorized AV1 for nearly 10 hours; he stalked her, handcuffed her, forced her to witness the shooting of the man in California, and placed her in fear that she would be sexually assaulted, killed or both.”
The memo quotes Lara as saying: “She feared that I was gonna kill her, especially after I shot that older guy at the motel . . . and I told her I have six bullets in my gun, if you do something stupid that first bullet is for you.”
“Although Lara has already received a state life sentence for killing Ms. Sawyer, the crimes he committed against AV1 and the crimes he forced her to witness are so serious and intertwined with Lara’s propensity for violence that they too merit a concurrent federal life sentence,” the memorandum states.
“Through his conduct and words, Lara revealed that he is a dangerous individual who needs to remain in custody for the rest of his life to protect the public.
“In his own words: ‘So I think all throughout my life I have struggled with somehow the urge to kill but what has helped me not develop that in a sense is when I married my wife ... But I believe that I have struggled with it, you know and one time I actually thought about killing this man but I didn’t do it because something actually held me back.’”
As part of the plea deal, federal officials and officials in Siskiyou County, California agreed to concurrent sentences and that he would serve his time in an Oregon prison.
On Thursday, Lara is expected to plead guilty to carjacking and kidnapping charges in a federal indictment and not two other counts that would require consecutive sentences and breach the settlement agreement.