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MUSCATINE — A new trial date has been set for a Marion man charged in the January murder of a Fairfield woman in Muscatine County.

The murder trial of Douglas J. Foster, 35, is scheduled to begin Monday, April 8 in Muscatine County District Court. Foster was charged Jan 15. with first-degree murder in the death of Lea Ponce, 20, a Class A felony.

Foster pleaded not guilty to the charge through a written arraignment filed with the court. If convicted, he could face a mandatory life prison sentence without parole.

Trial was initially set to begin March 18. Seventh Judicial Court Judge Stuart Werling is set to preside.

Foster was arrested Jan. 11 as a material witness in Ponce's death and was formally charged with her murder days later. He allegedly killed Ponce with his vehicle Jan. 8 on Highway 38 between Muscatine and Wilton.

In court documents, Ponce arranged to ride with Foster from Muscatine to Cedar Rapids. Ponce was afraid someone was going to kill her, court documents revealed, because she had allegedly stolen a large amount of methamphetamine from an individual's hotel room in Muscatine.

Ponce was last seen alive on surveillance video at 12:32 a.m. Jan. 8 in the Walmart parking lot in Muscatine getting into Foster's white GMC. Her body was found just before 1 a.m. on Highway 38.

Authorities found Foster hiding in the attic of a storage facility in Marion where it appeared he was living. Items belonging to Ponce were also found in the area Foster was staying. In an interview with authorities, Foster said he was hiding to avoid arrest for an out-of-state-warrant. Investigators found Foster was wanted on a felony warrant out of Texas.

According to court documents, an autopsy revealed Ponce died of blunt force trauma to the head, and her injuries show she was struck by a vehicle, dragged by a vehicle and was either thrown or jumped from a vehicle.

Foster also claimed Ponce insisted on getting out of the truck a few minutes after he picked her up, and said he drove back to Marion, taking a level B maintenance road, where his vehicle got stuck.

In addition to the messages between Ponce and Foster arranging travel to Cedar Rapids, investigators also found on Foster's phone messages he sent where he talked about hurting a woman he was going to pick up. In a message he said he would "turn her over to get (expletive) beaten have (sic) to death."

Phone records showed at 12:47 a.m. Foster made a nearly two minute phone call to "Individual A" and made searches Jan. 9 for "muskatine (sic) news" and "muskatine (sic) murder."

Foster is being held on $3 million cash-only bond. A final pretrial conference is scheduled for the end of the month, March 29.

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