Prosecutors may seek death penalty for Utah man accused of slaying 2 teens

The bodies of Riley Powell and Brelynn "Breezy" Otteson, both 18, were recovered from the Tintic Standard Mine in Dividend, Utah, undated | Photos of Powell and Otteson courtesy of Amanda Hunt, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Jerrod William Baum, 41, accused of killing two teens who went missing in December, was formally charged Tuesday in what prosecutors say could possibly become a capital murder case.

Utah County prosecutor Chad Grunander speaks about Jerrod W. Baum during a news conference in Provo, Utah, April 3, 2018. | Evan Cobb/The Daily Herald via The Associated Press, St. George News

Baum appeared in Provo’s 4th District Court on eight felony charges, including two counts each for aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping and abuse of a dead body, as well as one count each for possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and obstructing justice, according to court documents.

As reported by The Associated Press, Baum could face the death penalty if convicted in the deaths of the two slain teens due to the aggravated charges and what Utah County prosecutor Chad Grunander referred to in a press conference Tuesday as “torture and heinous acts” inflicted upon Otteson and Powell.

By law, the prosecutor’s office has 30 days from the arraignment to make those intentions known, Grunander said, adding that his office will make that decision “at a later date.”

Baum was arrested March 29, just hours after police recovered the bodies of 17-year-old Breezy Otteson and her boyfriend, 18-year-old Riley Powell, on a shallow ledge 100 feet down a 1,500-foot mine shaft near the town of Mammoth.

Read more: 2 bodies recovered from mine believed to be teens missing for 89 days; Utah man arrested

The bodies were transported to the medical examiner’s office in Taylorsville and, after an autopsy, were positively identified to be those of Otteson and Powell on Friday.

Jerrod Willliam Baum, of Eureka, booking photo from Feb. 13, 2018 | Photo courtesy of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Baum’s girlfriend, Morgan Henderson, 34, was arrested later that day on allegations she interfered with the investigation.

Henderson was then booked into Utah County Jail as soon as she was released from the Sanpete County Jail on unrelated gun charges, according to a statement released by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office March 31. 

As stated in court documents, Baum caught the two teenagers after they visited his girlfriend at their home and then bound them in their Jeep before driving them to an abandoned mine. Once there, Baum killed the teens, Henderson told police, after he warned her on previous occasions not to have male visitors at the house without Baum being present.

Detectives were able to develop a timeline of the teens movements using eyewitness testimony, social media, surveillance footage and cellphone records, as well as Facebook Messenger activity showing that Powell and Henderson were friends, which led police to her home.

Over the course of multiple interviews with police, Henderson initially denied having any knowledge of the teens’ whereabouts. Then she began changing her story, telling police in January that the teens were at her home in Mammoth the night they disappeared but that she had no idea what had happened to them once they left, according to information obtained from the probable cause statement filed with the court.

Morgan Henderson, of Eureka, booking photo from March 30, 2018 | Photo courtesy of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

On March 25, after police found an ax, a rifle and other items in her vehicle during an unrelated traffic stop, she was interviewed by police again.

During the interview, Henderson told police that Powell and Otteson had come to the house and left a short time later.

Henderson alleges that after the teens left, Baum came to find her and showed her the pair were tied up in Powell’s Jeep. He put Henderson in the car to “go for a ride and have a talk,” taking them all out to an abandoned mine site. He killed the teenagers, then took her back home and threatened her as well, police said.

Henderson then led investigators to the Tintic Standard Mine No. 2, where police located the teens’ bodies, both found with their hands tied behind their backs with what appeared to be multiple stab wounds.

Henderson faces charges for allegedly obstructing justice as police originally investigated the teens’ disappearance, Utah County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Cannon said in an earlier statement.

Tintic Standard Mine No. 2 located in Dividend, Utah, June 19, 2009  | Photo by Tricia Simpson via Wikimedia Commons, St. George News

Henderson is being held on $100,000 cash-only bond, Cannon said, while Baum is being held without bail.

The case garnered national attention as family and friends searched for the missing teens throughout Utah, searches that continued for nearly 90 days, until the bodies were discovered in the abandoned mine March 28.

Read more:  Foul play suspected in disappearance of 2 teens missing since end of December

After court Tuesday, several of Powell and Otteson’s family members visited the mine shaft where the teens spent their final moments of life and where they remained for nearly three months, Otteson’s aunt Amanda Hunt said in the Facebook post.

Several of Otteson and Powell’s family members visited the mine shaft where the teens spent their final moments, Dividend, Utah, April 3, 2018 |Photo courtesy of Amanda Hunt, St. George News

“We placed a wreath and flowers, along with the other flowers mourners have placed there in remembrance of them,” she said.

Hunt also described the experience of seeing Baum for the first time as he entered the courtroom Tuesday, saying the “calloused look on Jerrod’s face appeared to be that of someone with no soul.”

Two funeral services have been arranged for the teens: April 7 at Tintic School District building in Eureka and April 14 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints chapel on 180 S. Coleman St. in Tooele. Both services are scheduled at 11 a.m.

“Justice for Breezy and Riley has only just begun,” Hunt said.

In reaction to the story, the Domestic Violence Coalition released a statement calling the incident a “reminder of the prevalence of domestic violence in Utah and the need for continued awareness, knowledge of the signs, and supports in the community.”

According to the coalition, 18 percent of women in Utah will experience violence in an intimate relationship during their lifetime. Jenn Oxborrow, the coalition’s spokeswoman, said that domestic violence includes emotional or verbal abuse. Jealous behavior is unhealthy, she said, and is often used by perpetrators of abuse to exert power and control, similar to Baum’s behavior towards Henderson.

“We send our condolences to the loved ones of the deceased and we remind all survivors that confidential support is available,” Oxborrow said.

To learn more about jealousy and domestic violence click here. A confidential, 24-hour hotline is available at 1-800-897-5465 (LINK)

This is a developing story.

Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

This report is based on statements from police or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings, and the report will be further updated as information becomes available.

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

 

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3 Comments

  • comments April 4, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    A couple thing here:

    “Baum was arrested March 29, just hours after police recovered the bodies of 17-year-old Breezy Otteson and her boyfriend, 18-year-old Riley Powell, on a shallow ledge 100 feet down a 1,500-foot mine shaft near the town of Mammoth.”

    I wonder if that would be 1500 foot vertical drop.

    “In reaction to the story, the Domestic Violence Coalition released a statement calling the incident a ‘reminder of the prevalence of domestic violence in Utah and the need for continued awareness, knowledge of the signs, and supports in the community.'”

    Kind of ridiculous. We are a long way from what we could call “domestic violence” and well into deranged psycho killer territory. People here can think of an equally ridiculous comparison I’m sure.

    Thirdly, it still boggles the mind that creatures as evil and deranged as this walk among us.

  • PlanetU April 4, 2018 at 10:30 pm

    I just don’t get how people can … up their lives and that includes this woman.
    Ed. ellipsis

  • Striker4 April 4, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    Well being arrested and accused of something and being found guilty are two different things…..I’ll wait to see where the case goes..

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