PROVO — Prosecutors consider the crimes "heinous and depraved murders."
Not only did Jerrod William Baum make Riley Powell suffer by beating him and stabbing him multiple times, he forced Powell's girlfriend to watch the torture before throwing the man down a mine shaft, according to charging documents filed Tuesday.
Then, even though Baum thought Brelynne Otteson was pregnant, he proceeded to slit the 17-year-old's throat — allegedly so she wouldn't "suffer" as much — and threw her body down the same mine, the charges say.
"This is a potential capital case. Mr Baum could die for what he allegedly did,” deputy Utah County attorney Chad Grunander said Tuesday in announcing criminal charges against the Mammoth, Juab County, man.
Baum, 41, is charged in 4th District Court with two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of aggravated kidnapping, first-degree felonies; two counts of abuse or desecration of a dead body plus possession of a weapon by a restricted person, third-degree felonies; and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.
Whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty will be decided at a later date. Grunander said a number of factors go into deciding whether to seek the ultimate punishment, including the strength of the evidence, input from the victims' families, the defendant's criminal history and the heinousness of the crime.
The families of Powell, 18, and Otteson both said they support the death penalty for this case.
"We want justice and we want him to pay for what he did,” said Powell's father, Bill Powell.
"I’d love it," he said of the death penalty. "And I’m not saying 5, 6, 20 years down the road. Take him out back and do it as soon as the judge says, ‘You’re guilty.’ Do it. These kids have no life. He doesn’t deserve a life. We, as taxpayers, don’t need to support him or give him a life, because he took life. So I think do away with him as soon as possible, as fast as possible.”
"We want justice for these kids. And if the death penalty is what it is, then we’re going to stand for it,” concurred Amanda Hunt, Otteson's aunt.
Powell and Otteson were last seen near Mammoth on Dec. 29. The couple planned to stop in Spanish Fork before going home to Eureka, where both lived with Powell's grandfather.
They ended up going to visit Morgan Lewis Henderson, 34, that night in Mammoth. Henderson is Baum's girlfriend and they lived together.
Henderson told police that Baum did not allow her to have male friends at the house.
"Jerrod Baum arrived home upset that the teens had visited her. Jerrod Baum then bound the victims’ hands and feet, duct taped their mouths, and placed them in the back of Riley’s Jeep. He then drove them to a remote location near Eureka and killed them in Morgan’s presence, using a knife to stab and/or cut their throats.
"Baum then dumped their bodies into an open mine shaft," according to charging documents.
"Morgan described that Brelynne was forced to kneel near the open mine pit and witness the beating of her boyfriend, Riley Powell, and his stabbing, before she had her throat cut and was also thrown into the open mine," the charges state.
"Morgan related to police that prior to the killings, (Baum) was operating under the belief that Brelynne was pregnant, having offered to Brelynne and Riley his congratulations as they walked from the car to the open mine shaft."
Grunander said Tuesday that authorities do not believe Otteson was actually pregnant.
After the killings, Baum said "that he had made Riley suffer, but that he felt bad about Brelynne, so he made her death quick and painless," the charges state. "In other statements to Morgan, (Baum) admitted subsequent consternation of the fact that Brelynne was 'innocent.'"
The disappearance of the young couple led to a three-month search by authorities and family members in Tooele County and Juab County.
On Jan. 11, Powell's missing Jeep was found partially hidden in trees, about a mile south of Cherry Creek Reservoir. The Jeep had two flat tires, leading investigators to suspect foul play.
On Jan. 25, Henderson was interviewed by police. She claimed there was a rumor that Powell and Otteson had been involved in a drug deal gone bad, court documents say. She also claimed the couple never showed up at her house that night, Dec. 29, until the detective pressed her further with questions.
Police say Henderson eventually admitted that the couple had been at their house that night, but didn't know where they went or what happened to them.
Two months later, on March 24, Henderson was pulled over in Sanpete County and arrested for investigation of drug and weapons charges. While she was being interviewed at the Sanpete County Sheriff's Office, she told investigators a different story that night and in the early morning hours of Dec. 30.
That interview led investigators to the Tintic Standard Mine outside Eureka on March 27. A camera was lowered into the mine, which is more than 1,500 feet deep. The bodies of the young couple were found on a ledge 100 feet down.
Henderson was booked into the Utah County jail on March 30 for obstruction of justice.
On Tuesday, Grunander said his office is still considering what to charge Henderson with, but noted that prosecutors are leaning toward obstruction of justice as opposed to being an accomplice to the killings. An accomplice certification would allow prosecutors to charge Henderson with the same crimes as Baum.
But for that to happen, Grunander said he would have to prove that Henderson was a “proactive participant in the crime” and that she also had the “same mental state” as Baum, meaning she acted with the intention of killing Riley and Otteson.
Grunander also noted that Henderson "was threatened at one point” by Baum.
Baum made an initial appearance in court Tuesday. He was led into the courtroom separately from the other defendants who were also on the docket that day. Standing over 6 feet tall and weighing 300 pounds, the heavily tattooed Baum, wearing a yellow jail jump suit, said, "Yes sir" when the judge asked for confirmation of his name. He responded with a much quieter "Yes sir" when asked if he understood the charges against him.
Baum looked around the courtroom briefly and seemed to look in the direction of the victims' families. His next hearing is scheduled for April 26.
Both Bill Powell and Hunt said it was the first time they had ever seen Baum in person. Hunt said it was emotional to put a face with the crimes. The family members say they still don't understand why the killings occurred.
"They did nothing. They had no reason to be touched in any way, shape or form. They were just kids,” Powell said. "I don’t understand why. I mean, there’s no reason. They didn’t do anything to deserve something like that. And to torture Riley …”
"Heinous crime," Hunt inserted.
"Those kids get pain relief or anything? No. They got tortured. They suffered. And he needs to suffer,” Powell added. "They didn’t go there thinking something was going to happen to them. I mean, they went there to have fun. Well, that didn’t happen. We don’t know why."
"My brother didn’t deserve this and neither did she. They had a whole life to live. She was only 17, he was 18. … It’s just hard to realize they’re actually gone now — really gone,” a tearful Nikka Powell, Riley Powell's younger sister, said.9 comments on this story
The couple's bodies were cremated Tuesday morning after family members said their goodbyes. Two memorial services are scheduled. The first will be Saturday in Eureka at the Tintic School District located next to Tintic High School. The second will be Saturday, April 14, in Tooele at the LDS Church meetinghouse located at 180 S. Coleman St.
Grunander said he believes the last death penalty case in Utah County was Ron Lafferty. He is on Utah's death row for the 1984 murders of his sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty, and her baby daughter after she resisted her husband's entry into a polygamous group.