A Provo jury on Friday convicted 46-year-old Jerrod Baum of kidnapping and murdering a teenage couple more than four years ago and throwing their bodies down a mine shaft.
After more than a day of deliberations, jurors ultimately found Baum guilty of all charges filed against him: two counts each of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping and desecration of a body; and one count each of obstruction of justice and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person.
According to testimony from Baum’s former girlfriend, Morgan Henderson Lewis, Baum had forbidden Lewis from speaking to other men and exploded with anger in December 2017 when he discovered Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17, and her 18-year-old boyfriend, Riley Powell, leaving Baum’s home after hanging out with Lewis.
Prosecutors argued that rage led Baum to abducting and killing them.
In closing arguments to the weekslong trial Wednesday, Deputy Utah County Attorney Christine Scott suggested that — in addition to a motive of jealousy — Baum had his eyes on a $500,000 insurance payment that Lewis had received at the time, adding that Baum had tried to set up a joint bank account with her.
After he saw the teens leaving the house, Baum bound them, put duct tape over their mouths, drove them to an abandoned mine shaft in rural Juab County, forced them to kneel, then beat and stabbed Powell to death, Lewis testified.
“Goodbye, Riley, you piece of s--t,” Baum said, according to Lewis, the only witness to the killings.
Baum then slit Otteson’s throat, Lewis said, and threw both teenagers into the 1,800-foot shaft, where their bodies were discovered months later, in March 2018.
“He said it was like lambs to the slaughter,” Scott told jurors Wednesday, quoting Lewis’ account of what Baum said after the killings. “Nobody fought.”
‘Is she worthy of your belief?’
Scott spent much of her 97-minute closing remarks Wednesday recounting Lewis’ version of the killings, while defense attorney Dallas Young spent almost two hours Wednesday attacking Lewis’ credibility.
Lewis admitted on the stand that she originally lied to police about what happened, but said she did it out of fear, because Baum had allegedly threatened her and her son.
“She had seen him kill two people, so she decided her best course of action was to be his No. 1 fan,” Scott said.
In 2018, Lewis pleaded guilty to charges of obstruction of justice before spending three years behind bars. Young on Wednesday argued that Lewis’ plea indicated that she wasn’t under compulsion. “It’s a red flag, and it’s worth considering,” he said.
According to Scott, part of Lewis’ plea deal was that Lewis was required to tell the truth to investigators and to the court. She still wears an ankle monitor.
“It boils down to one key question,” Young argued Wednesday. “And that is — can Morgan be believed?”
Because, he said, “There is very, very little physical evidence, very little forensic evidence. … You have heard evidence from Morgan and Morgan alone. Nobody else. … Is she worthy of your belief? Is she worthy of your trust? The answer to the questions is, no.”
Young also pointed to Lewis’ history of “mental health struggles” and drug use, noting inconsistencies in her story and asserting that she should have recalled more details, arguing that she was “not telling the complete truth.”
During the trial, police detectives testified that they investigated the possibility Lewis committed the crime, but determined that Baum was the killer. Baum chose not to testify in his own defense.
Scott argued that Lewis doesn’t remember some things because of trauma and “PTSD,” referring to post traumatic stress disorder.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Jerrod Baum kidnapped Riley and Breezy,” Scott said, addressing the jury. “Murdered Riley and Breezy. Threw their bodies in a mine shaft. We ask you to find him guilty.”
Prosecutors originally sought death penalty
Fourth District Judge Derek P. Pullan set Baum’s sentencing hearing for June 1. In 2019, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said he would seek the death penalty for Baum, but two years later announced that he would no longer seek the death penalty in any case.
During a funeral service in 2018, shortly after the teens’ bodies were found, family and friends described Riley Powell as hardworking and selfless — a fast drag racer who cooked some mean barbecue and the best steaks.
Breezy was energetic, outspoken and kind, they said — a dancer and a singer who loved Snapchat and eating cake out of a cup with milk. The two had been dating for about four months when they disappeared. They were obviously in love.
Since the pair spent their last moments together, Breezy’s aunt, Amanda Hunt, said at the time, it made sense to memorialize them together.
“When Riley first met Breezy,” Riley’s sister, Nikka Powell, said at the service, “he looked at me and said, ‘She is the one, bro.’”
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.
— Tribune staff writer Jordan Miller contributed to this report.