Provo • When Jerrod William Baum was led into a Provo courtroom Tuesday just hours after he was charged with killing two Juab County teenagers, it was the first time the alleged victims’ family members had seen him.
They had never met Baum before he allegedly killed 18-year-old Riley Powell and 17-year-old Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson in December and dumped their bodies into an abandoned mine shaft. It was emotional, family members said, to see the man in the small Utah County courtroom — they could finally link a face to what had happened to their loved ones.
“It’s hard to say what a killer looks like,” said Bill Powell, Riley’s father. “To me, he didn’t look like a killer. But he didn’t look like a good person.”
Baum, 41, was charged in 4th District Court on Tuesday with two counts each of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping and abuse or desecration of a human body, as well as one count each of obstructing justice and being a felon in possession of a dangerous weapon.
The Juab County man is accused in court papers of forcing Breezy to kneel before the mine shaft and watch as Baum beat and stabbed her 18-year-old boyfriend before “she had her own throat cut and was also thrown into the open mine.”
The defendant believed that the teen girl was pregnant and offered “his congratulations” to the young couple as they walked from the car to the open mine shaft, according to charging documents. Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander said at a Tuesday news conference that officials do not believe Breezy was pregnant.
Grunander called the deaths of Breezy and Riley “heinous, depraved murders,” and he said prosecutors could seek the death penalty. That decision is to be made within 60 days of a preliminary hearing.
Bill Powell said Tuesday after the court hearing that he “would love it” if prosecutors sought to execute Baum, and Breezy’s family members echoed similar support for capital punishment.
“We want justice for these kids,” said Amanda Hunt, Breezy’s aunt. “And if the death penalty is what it is, then we’re going to stand for it. These kids didn’t deserve that.”
Baum, shackled and wearing a yellow jumpsuit, peered around the courtroom during his brief initial appearance. When asked by Judge Darold McDade if he understood the charges that had been filed against him, Baum murmured, “Yes, sir.”
He was appointed a public defender Tuesday, and an April 26 scheduling conference was set. Meanwhile, Baum will remain at the Utah County jail without the opportunity to post bail.
The charges against Baum rely heavily on admissions to police by his girlfriend, 34-year-old Morgan Henderson. Grunander said Baum has not been interviewed by police, because he requested a lawyer when he was arrested last week.
Grunander said the county was screening potential charges for Henderson on Tuesday.
“We are looking into obstructing justice, and that is all at this point,” he said of Henderson, adding that there is no evidence to indicate that she was an accomplice to the teens’ deaths.
Baum’s charges note that while Henderson “was likely present” for the killings, “it would have been unlikely that she alone could have accomplished the kidnapping and murder of the victims,” including inflicting the injuries found on Riley’s body.
After the slayings, Baum told his girlfriend that he had made Riley suffer, but “he felt bad” about Brelynne, who he said was “innocent,” so he made her death “quick and painless,” charges state.
Henderson told police that her boyfriend had said she wasn’t supposed to have male friends, according to a probable cause statement filed in conjunction with his arrest. He was upset Dec. 29, Henderson told police, when he found out that Riley and Breezy had come to their Mammoth home to smoke marijuana that evening.
After Henderson believed Riley and Breezy had left, Baum led her outside, where she saw the teens tied up in the back of Riley’s Jeep, she told police. Charges filed Tuesday say the teens were bound at hands and feet, and their mouths were duct-taped.
Baum told Henderson to get into the Jeep, which he drove to an abandoned mine shaft known as the Tintic Standard No. 2, according to the probable cause statement. It lies northeast of Eureka, just inside the Utah County border.
At the mine, Baum used a knife to kill the teens and dumped their bodies into the 1,800-foot shaft, where they landed on a ledge about 100 feet down, according to the statement. Law enforcers recovered the teens’ bodies on March 28 and arrested Baum the same day. Two days later, an autopsy confirmed that the bodies were the teens’.
Abandoned mines are a serious problem in the former silver mining area, “just sitting right there waiting for someone to fall in them or get put in them,” Bill Powell said at a Thursday news conference.
The West is dotted with abandoned mines, and there are about 20,000 in Utah alone, said Hollie Brown, spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, according to The Associated Press.
“Sadly, it’s a great place to go and dispose of, unfortunately, bodies and other items,” Brown said.
The state has closed several thousand abandoned mines, but the shaft where Breezy’s and Riley’s bodies were found is on private land, she said. She’s hoping the state can work with the landowner to seal it.
Breezy lived in Tooele for most of her life and moved into Riley’s home in Eureka after they began dating, about four months before their disappearance.
Family members had spent months searching for the teens and, when police discovered the bodies, struggled to understand why they’d been killed. After Baum’s Tuesday court appearance, they were no closer to answers.
The court hearing came a day after family members visited the morgue and said their final words to Breezy and Riley, who were cremated Tuesday. Nikka Powell, Riley’s younger sister, wept as she recalled how hard it was to say goodbye.
“It’s not right what happened,” she said, tears rolling down her face. “My brother didn’t deserve this, and neither did she. We had a whole life to live. She was only 17, he was 18. … It’s just hard to realize they’re gone now — really gone.”
Services for both are scheduled to be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Eureka at the Tintic School District, 545 E. Main St., which is next to the high school.
A second service for the teens is scheduled for April 14 at 11 a.m. in Tooele at a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 180 S. Coleman St.
BREEZY AND RILEY TIMELINE
Dec. 29, 2017: Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17, communicate with family members while traveling home to Eureka from Tooele.
Dec. 29, 2017, 11 p.m.: Riley contacts Morgan Henderson, who is the live-in girlfriend of Jerrod Baum. Riley arranges to meet at Henderson’s home in Mammoth at midnight. The same night, all social media activity from Riley and Breezy ceases.
Early Dec. 30: Riley and Breezy arrive at Henderson’s home. Baum is not initially present but arrives home “upset that the teens had visited” Henderson.
Baum binds the victims’ hands and feet, places duct tape over their mouths and puts them in the back of Riley’s Jeep.
Baum drives Riley’s Jeep — with Henderson in the car and Riley and Breezy tied up — to the Tintic Standard No. 2 mine, where he kills Riley and Breezy as Henderson watches.
Baum drives Henderson back to their home in Mammoth.
Henderson drives Riley’s Jeep to Cherry Creek Reservoir; Baum accompanies her in a truck. The truck gets stuck, and the two use a tie-down strap to pull it out. They abandon the Jeep near Cherry Creek Reservoir.
Jan. 2: Riley and Breezy are reported missing.
Jan. 9: Police conduct their first interview with Henderson and Baum, together at their home in Mammoth. Both deny knowing anything about the teens’ disappearance.
Jan. 11: Police find Riley’s Jeep at Cherry Creek Reservoir. It has a tie-down strap on it, and the tires have been slashed.
Between Jan. 9 and Jan. 25: Police find a Facebook Messenger thread between Riley and Henderson, in which Riley agrees to meet Henderson at her house at midnight on Dec. 29.
Jan. 25: Police conduct an interview with Henderson in a deputy’s vehicle as Baum watches from outside. Henderson initially denies having seen Riley and Breezy before they disappeared, but after police confront her about the Facebook conversation, she tells police that the teens came over “sometime after midnight,” stayed about 40 minutes and then left.
March 25: Henderson is pulled over for speeding and is arrested on suspicion of unrelated allegations in Sanpete County. Police interview her again, and she tells them that Baum killed Riley and Breezy.
March 26: Henderson takes police to the mine where Riley and Breezy’s bodies were dumped. She also takes police to a sludge barrel that contains destroyed cellphones and other items.
March 27: Henderson tells police she was there for the killings and describes the way Baum bound and stabbed the teens. Police use a camera to search the mine shaft and discover the two teens’ bodies on a ledge about 100 feet down.
March 28: Police recover Riley’s and Breezy’s bodies and send them to the medical examiner. Baum is transferred from the Juab County jail, where he was being held on suspicion of unrelated crimes, to the Utah County jail on suspicion of the homicides.
Friday: An autopsy confirms that the bodies are Breezy and Riley’s. Henderson is booked into the Utah County jail on suspicion of obstructing justice.
Monday: Baum is charged in 4th District Court with killing the teens.
Timeline based on information from probable cause statements filed with the court.