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Utah Co. Attorney to seek death penalty in case of murdered teens

(Photo Credit: Tooele County Sheriff's Office)

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt says that his office will seek the death penalty against the man who was charged with killing two Utah teens and dumping their bodies in an abandoned mine shaft.

“We are giving this defendant one offer, the offer of a fair trial,” Leavitt said.

Jerrod Baum pleaded not guilty last month in the murders of 17-year-old Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson and 18-year-old Riley Powell who went missing on December 30th, 2017. Both of their parents had called for the death penalty earlier this year.

The families of the victims hugged and smiled after the announcement was made.  Otteson’s aunt, Amanda Hunt, says this was the announcement they were hoping to hear.

Hunt says, “That’s the one thing we were sure of.  These kids didn’t get to choose their life.  They didn’t get a fight.  So, why should he have an option to live?”  She adds,“We want justice for these kids and if the death penalty is what that is, then, we’re going to stand for it.”

Hunt calls Jerrod Baum a sociopath who is a clear danger to society.

“Aggravating factors… it only takes one to move forward with the death penalty and there were at least five,” she says.

The teens were discovered in the abandoned Tintic Standard Mine Number 2 in Eureka three months after their disappearance.

Both Hunt and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt know nothing can bring Powell and Otteson back, but, Leavitt believes Baum is the kind of person that society needs to be protected from.

“If pulling a trigger or injecting a needle would bring Breezy or Riley back, I would do so, personally,” Leavitt says.

However, there are a lot of obstacles attorneys have to clear before the death sentence is carried out.  Leavitt estimates the court process would cost the county roughly a million dollars.  Plus, the last person to receive the death penalty in Utah County is Ron Lafferty, who is still alive despite being sentenced in 1984.  Still, Leavitt believes Baum is worth the time and money after what he reportedly did to his victims.

Leavitt says, “As for no reason, whatsoever, they were brutally tortured and murdered and thrown like mere trash down a mine shaft where their bodies laid 250 feet below the surface.”

Leavitt insists he’s not authorizing the death penalty just so he could convince Baum to plead guilty.  However, he would not specify whether or not he would accept a plea change if it was offered to take the death sentence off the table.

Baum’s former girlfriend, Morgan Lewis, shared the information that led police to the teen’s location during her testimony in a Provo courtroom after she was arrested in an unrelated case.

Charging documents say she told the court that Baum had become angry that the teens were visiting her. This led him to tie the teens up in the back of his truck before driving them out to Eureka and stabbing them.

Baum had a criminal history in Utah County before these events that stretch back to his teenage years.  In 1992, Baum was tried as an adult for attempted murder after he allegedly stole several vehicles, robbed a Burger King in Orem and fired a gun at the employees who followed him into the parking lot.

Baum’s next court appearance is a pretrial conference scheduled for August 12.