MUSCATINE — A Marion man charged as a material witness in the death of a woman found on Highway 38 has now been charged with her murder.
Douglas Joseph Foster, 35, was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the death of Lea Ponce, 20, from Fairfield. He appeared Wednesday morning in Muscatine County District Court on the charge.
Foster is being held on $3 million cash-only bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 25, at the Muscatine County Courthouse.
An autopsy revealed Ponce died from blunt force trauma to the head and her injuries show she was struck by a vehicle, dragged by a vehicle, and was thrown or jumped from a vehicle.
According to the affidavit from Muscatine County, Ponce was afraid of being killed by someone referred to as "Individual A" and had called and messaged several people Jan. 7, asking for a ride to Cedar Rapids.
"Individual A" suspected Ponce had stolen a large quantity of meth from his hotel room and offered a bounty, paid in meth, to the person who could find her, according to the report.
Investigators found Facebook messages on Foster's phone showing Ponce made arrangements with Foster, whom she previously knew, to drive her to Cedar Rapids and the two would meet at Walmart in Muscatine.
Ponce was seen on surveillance video at 12:32 a.m. Jan. 8, getting into Foster's white GMC at Walmart in Muscatine and that was the last time she was seen alive. Her body was found at 12:58 a.m. Jan. 8 on Highway 38 between Muscatine and Wilton.
Also found on Foster's phone were messages sent and received in an apparent argument with a female acquaintance before he met Ponce at the store, the affidavit showed. In the messages 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."
Through phone records, investigators found Foster made a nearly two minute call at 12:47 a.m. to "Individual A." Records also showed Foster searched at 8:54 a.m. Jan. 9 for "muskatine (sic) news" and at 6:45 p.m. for "muskatine (sic) murder."
Muscatine County Sheriff's Office issued a news release the afternoon of Jan. 8, looking into the circumstances that led to the death of the woman found on Highway 38 and was updated Jan. 9, with the identity of the body, but "at no time did law enforcement refer to the death of Ponce as a murder until Foster was taken into custody as a material witness," the affidavit read.
During a search of Foster's vehicle Jan. 14, investigators found 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."