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MUSCATINE — A jury was selected Wednesday and testimony began in the murder trial of a Marion man charged with a woman's murder earlier this year.

Douglas J. Foster, 35, was arrested and charged in January with first-degree murder in the death of Lea Ponce, 21, of Fairfield. Ponce's body was found in the early morning hours of Jan. 8 on the side of the road on Highway 38 between Muscatine and Wilton. Foster was seen on surveillance camera picking up Ponce from Walmart in Muscatine shortly before her body was found.

The 12 jurors and three alternates heard a recorded interview Wednesday between Muscatine County Detective Kenny Hora and Foster. The interview took place in Marion, where Foster had been staying at the time of the murder. Foster explained he and Ponce had a friendly, and at times, intimate relationship and first met while using drugs together.

He said when he picked her up that night she wanted to use drugs but he didn't have any.  "She wasn't happy about that," he said in the recording.

Hora asked Foster why he didn't answer the door when authorities were looking for him at the facility. Foster said he was afraid of getting arrested for a felony warrant out of Texas. Foster declined to talk about the details of the warrant during the interview.

After Foster picked up Ponce, he said she wanted out of the vehicle because he didn't have any drugs. He said he let her out not far from where he picked her up, then drove out of town and got his truck stuck in mud on a rural road.

Foster said Ponce's aunt called him to ask what he did to Lea.

"I said 'I didn't do anything to her,'" he said in the recording.

Initially arrested Jan. 11 as a material witness, Foster was charged with Ponce's murder days later. Ponce was last seen on surveillance video at 12:32 a.m. getting into Foster's truck at Walmart in Muscatine. Just before 1 a.m., her body was found on Highway 38. 

In court documents, an autopsy revealed Ponce died from blunt force trauma to the head. Her injuries also showed she was struck and dragged by a vehicle, and was either thrown or jumped from a vehicle.

Messages between Ponce and Foster were found on Foster's cell phone by investigators, court documents revealed. Along with messages arranging Foster to pick up Ponce, Foster also sent messages where he talked about hurting a woman he was going to pick up. Foster was picking up Ponce for another individual, documents read, who Ponce allegedly stole meth from and would be paid in drugs.

Seventh Judicial District Court Judge Stuart Werling estimated the trial would last five days including jury deliberations. Court proceedings will be held at the  Muscatine County Community Services Building due to ongoing renovations of the third floor courtroom at the county courthouse. Testimony is expected to continue Thursday.

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