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Emotions high as Lara pleads guilty to Sawyer murder

'Rot in hell, scumbag,' woman's grandfather said.
Credit: Juli Van Cleave

BEND, Ore. — Editor's Note: This story was originally published on KTVZ.com on Jan. 22, 2018 and is being resurfaced as KGW launches a new podcast about Kaylee Sawyer's murder called "Urge To Kill." 

Former Central Oregon Community College campus security officer Edwin Lara pleaded guilty to aggravated murder at a tense, emotional hearing Monday and was sentenced to life in prison without parole, avoiding a trial and possible death penalty for the 2016 abduction and murder of Kaylee Sawyer at the school’s Bend campus.

In a packed courtroom filled mostly with friends and family of the victim, Lara, 32, answered questions from Deschutes County Circuit Judge Michael Adler. In a petition signed by Lara and his defense lawyer, Benjamin Kim, he pleaded guilty to one count each of aggravated murder and robbery.

RELATED: KGW podcast debuts never before heard interviews in Kaylee Sawyer case

Prosecutors had intended to seek the death penalty at a trial that was scheduled for this fall.

Lara was charged with four counts of aggravated murder in the July 24, 2016, abduction. He admitted to abducting the 23-year-old Sawyer as she was walking home, killing her and later dumping her body in a canyon west of Redmond. 

Authorities said Lara then fled Central Oregon and carjacked Aundrea Maes of Salem, then headed south to Northern California, where he shot a man at a Yreka, California motel. He then carjacked a car with a man's family inside and led police on a high-speed chase before being arrested.

The change of plea and sentencing hearing had been scheduled for up to two days, but it took less than a day to conclude -- but was a roller-coaster of emotion for all in attendance, from angry finger-pointing attacks on Lara to his own first and only public statement - a prayer for community healing that prompted Sawyer's grandfather to leave the courtroom.

Lara's trial had been pushed back more than a year at the request of defense lawyers who noted the complex nature of the case and Lara's dual citizenship as factors. Lara lived in Honduras until he was 11 and although he is legal permanent U.S. resident, he is also a Honduran citizen.

Adler said the outcome of a pending federal case, as well as charges in Siskiyou County, California, would be served concurrently with the Oregon murder, and Lara would remain in an Oregon prison for life. The judge also said Lara will have limited appeal rights.

As the facts of Sawyer's assault, robbery and abduction were outlined in court, her mother, Juli VanCleave, held back tears and shook her head.

She had made public the pending plea deal in a recent Facebook post, noting, “Justice has been served. But legal justice is a far cry from the justice Kaylee Sawyer deserved. … I have learned that sometimes the only thing that happens with an ending is just an ending.”

Deputy District Attorney Mary Anderson said, “The defendant will be locked up for the remainder of his life” as she began a presentation describing who Sawyer was, followed by emotional statements from members of the victim's family.

At Monday's hearing, VanCleave told Lara: "You lived your life as a coward, too afraid to fight your demons, and a failure, because you said you killed my daughter so you can 'silence her forever.'

"But since her death, she has united a community. A foundation was started in her name to give every kid in Head Start a book. She has a jewelry line in her honor, and a scholarship in her memory. So you failed. You did not silence my daughter forever -- you couldn't. You don't own that type of power."

Jim Walden, Sawyer's grandfather, told the judge, "It seems the judicial system, rightfully so, seeks to protect a person's rights in this case -- those of the piece of human garbage sitting over there, the court refers to as the defendant."

"His own statement: He wanted to silence her forever. What about Kaylee’s rights? What about her right to live? What about her right to be who she was, a beautiful, loving, vivacious human being?

"When arrested for these brutal and horrific crimes, the defendant was read his Miranda rights. He was also read his consular rights, as he is also a Honduran national. What about Kaylee's rights?

"I guess i don’t understand the judicial system. His confession was thrown out, thrown out, because he wasn’t given his three phone calls within the first three hours of being arrested for crimes committed in California.

"It is my understanding that is a California state statute, not Oregon. What does California state law have to do with crimes committed in Oregon? We have our own laws. In his confession. he stated, "I want to tell you where her body is, but I want to go home first.' Where is home? Is it Redmond, California or Honduras?

"If I were to be given three wishes, these are what they would be: to have our Kaylee back with us, alive and well and pursuing her life. I know that is impossible. No. 2,  I wish to have this piece of garbage sentenced to death for what he’s done to my Kaylee. No. 3, I wish the court system and the state of Oregon would just hand him over to me and allow me to administer the death sentence.

"I realize all my wishes are just that, wishes. But he will die in prison and it will be a lifetime experience for him. He’ll probably wish he’d been given the death sentence.

"So if you will give custody to this piece of ---- to my extended family, we'll take him out in the desert, we'll let the eagles, the hawks, the coyotes and the maggots eat that piece of ---- alive. And then, when the buzzards are done peckin' his friggin' body, I'm going to ---- in his face and ---- in his carcass, and I'm going to fill his carcass full of lead -- pow!" Gray said, raising his arm to point at and fire it like a gun at Lara.

Last October, Adler had thrown out Lara's apparent confession as evidence in his trial. The judge also had imposed strict gag orders on everyone involved in the case.

Benjamin Kim, Lara's attorney, said his client has shown remorse during their conversations. 

Before Adler handed down Lara's sentence, the defendant turned to the packed courtroom and offered a prayer of healing. 

"Today, I've seen your pain. Today, I've seen your anger. I don't have much to say to you at this moment. I only have a single prayer. But some day, I would like to speak to whomever is willing to listen," Lara said.

"God Almighty, I ask you please heal the hearts, all the broken hearts in this community. I ask you please heal the hearts of this family and everyone who is in this place today, and may Kaylee Sawyer rest in peace. Amen."

And he, too, was sharply critical of Lara's actions that night in July 2016, and the damage left in its wake.

"You were acting as the predator that you were that evening," he said. "You saw this vulnerable young woman as somebody you can prey upon, there is no doubt about it. You can sugarcoat it, but that is what you did."


Urge to Kill is a KGW podcast following the rape and murder of Kaylee Sawyer. After celebrating a bachelorette party in downtown Bend, Oregon in July of 2016, Kaylee disappeared in the middle of the night. The horrific details of her brutal rape and killing shook the residents of the quiet town in the Pacific Northwest. Her murderer would go on to terrorize several other families in a multi-state crime spree. He said he had the “urge to kill.” Our team sat down with all of his victims who were lucky to get out alive. 

Urge To Kill launches Nov. 5. 

A man with an "urge to kill" took the life of a beloved Oregon woman in the middle of the night. We'll follow investigators as they uncover the wild twists and turns of this case, including the killer's multi-state crime spree in which he terrorized everyo...

Contact the Urge to Kill team at urgetokill@kgw.com. Join our Facebook group and follow us on Instagram.