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Charges filed in “depraved” killings of Utah County teens

UTAH COUNTY – The man accused of killing two Eureka teens before dumping their bodies in an abandoned mine will be eligible for the death penalty.

Jerrod Baum is officially charged with two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of abuse or desecration of a body, one count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and one count of obstruction of justice.

The charging documents describe just how gruesome the attacks were.  Court records say Baum bound Riley Powell and Breezy Otteson, drove them to Tintic Standard Mine Number 2 in Eureka, then forced Otteson to watch as Powell was beaten and stabbed multiple times.  Powell was even reportedly stabbed in the groin.  Then, Baum reportedly cut Otteson’s throat.

(Photo Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

The two charges of aggravated murder make the death penalty a possibility, and prosecutors have 60 days to make their decision.

“I think, as a prosecutor, the primary thing you look at is the strength of evidence in the case.  The case is still developing.  The investigation is still ongoing.  You obviously look at the heinousness of the crime,” according to Utah County Deputy Attorney Chad Grunander.

Grunander says they’ll also speak with the victims’ families for their input on the death penalty.

“They understand where we’re coming from.  They understand the investigation is ongoing.  They’re grieving.  This is a very difficult time for them,” he says.

Those family members were court as Baum made his initial court appearance, where he was informed about the charges against him.  He was mostly quiet and confirmed to the judge that he understood what was happening.  Baum was also appointed a public defender who asked for more time to gather evidence for the defense.  The next hearing is scheduled for April 26.

(Photo Credit: Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

Both Powell’s father, Bill, and Otteson’s aunt, Amanda Hunt, say they’re fully supportive of prosecutors seeking the death penalty.

Hunt says, “We want justice for these kids and if the death penalty is what that is, then, we’re going to stand for it.”

Members of both families hugged and cried after seeing Baum for the first time.  Today was especially emotional for them since the teens were cremated after loved ones had a chance to say their final goodbyes.  Powell’s sister, Nikka, says it was very hard saying farewell to her brother’s body.

“Me and my brother, we were so close. I was so close to Breezy.  We did everything together.  It’s just hard to actually realize that they’re gone now.  Really gone,” Nikka says.

She, like the rest of the family, is still struggling to understand why Baum reportedly killed her brother and her friend.

“Honestly, my brother didn’t deserve this, and neither did she.  They had a whole life. We had a whole life to live,” she says.

(Photo Credit: Tooele County Sheriff’s Office)

Baum’s girlfriend, Morgan Henderson, had already been charged with obstruction of justice, in this case.  However, prosecutors are still deciding if she’ll be charged with being an accomplice in the murders.

“[Being an] accomplice requires proactive participation in the crime, but, also, that individual must have the same mental state as the primary actor,” Grunander says.

Grunander says Baum also threatened Henderson. They believe she was also present at the time of the murders.