Marion man sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty following death of 20-year-old Lea Ponce

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MUSCATINE, Iowa (KWQC) - UPDATE 6/3/19: A Marion, Iowa man will be spending the rest of his life behind bars. 36 year old Douglas Foster was convicted of the death of 20 year old Lea Ponce back in April. A judge sentenced him to life in prison on May 31st, 2019.

UPDATE 4/12: A Marion man has been found guilty in the death of 20-year-old Lea Ponce.

Officials with Muscatine County say 36-year-old Douglas Foster was found guilty after a five-day jury trial. The jury deliberated for two hours before returning with a guilty verdict.

Foster will be sentenced on May 31, at 9 a.m. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"I would like to thank the jury for their hard work on this case" said Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren. "This was a difficult case - they paid close attention to the complex facts in order to return their verdict. I would also like to thank the excellent investigative work done by the Muscatine County Sheriff's Office and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation" he added.

ORIGINAL 1/15/19: A Marion, Iowa man is facing first-degree murder charges in the death of a 20-year-old found dead on the side of Highway 38 between Muscatine and Wilton on January 8, 2019.

According to charging documents, Douglas Joseph Foster, 35, picked up Lea Ponce, 20, at the Muscatine Walmart before she was killed. Foster told police after picking Ponce up, she asked to be let out of the car and he pulled over so she could exit the vehicle. Foster told police he took a “level B maintenance road and his vehicle became stuck,” the charging documents state.

The Muscatine County Attorney, Alan R. Ostergren, also listed another person in the charging documents, only identifying them as “Individual A”. Ostergren alleged that “Individual A” would pay a bounty, in the form of methamphetamine, if someone could locate Ponce. The County Attorney said “Individual A” believed Ponce had taken a “large amount of methamphetamine from Individual A’s hotel room.” A search of Ponce’s cell phone by police turned up messages that “she was in danger because Individual A was going to kill her” over the theft of methamphetamine from “Individual A.” Foster and Ponce made arrangements to meet at the Walmart via Facebook, the County Attorney said.

The charging documents alleged Foster and a female acquaintance got into an argument via text message prior to Foster picking Ponce up at the Muscatine Walmart. The nature of the text conversation, detailed in the charging documents, alleged the argument is over Foster picking up a woman and is explicit. Charging documents alleged Foster made comments about having sex with the woman before “turn her over to get fu**ing beaten have (sic) to death”.

Ponce’s body was discovered at 12:58 a.m., 31 minutes after she is seen getting into Foster’s GMC pickup truck at Walmart, according to charging documents. The documents alleged Foster made two calls to “Individual A” 14 minutes before Ponce was discovered. A search warrant of Foster’s phone also revealed he searched the terms “muskatine (sic) news” and “muskatine (sic) murder" the day after Ponce’s body was found.

Foster was arrested after a search warrant of a home Foster staying. Investigators say they discovered Ponce’s personal items inside the home. Foster was found hiding in the attic space and is said to have told police “he attempted to hide to avoid arrest on active out of state warrants”. Foster’s vehicle was located parked behind a storage facility. The vehicle was searched on January 14, 2019. Prosecutors said they located plastic cable ties configured in a way consistent with how law enforcement uses them “to detain or arrest subjects to prevent movement of their hands”.

The charging documents state that Ponce’s death was the result of blunt force trauma to the head “consistent with a person being struck by a motor vehicle, dragged by a motor vehicle, and being thrown from or jumping from a motor vehicle.”