Man ordered to stand trial in deaths of teens in mine shaft

Composite image using March file photo of Jerrod Baum (center), courtesy of court pool; photos of Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson (top right) and Riley Powell, (bottom right) courtesy of Amanda Hunt, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Juab County man charged with killing two teens and throwing their bodies down an abandoned mine shaft will stand trial for aggravated murder and kidnapping, a 4th District judge has ordered.

Jerrod Willliam Baum booking photo from Feb. 13, 2018 | File photo courtesy of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Jerrod Baum, 42, of Mammoth, appeared in court in Provo where Judge Derek Pullan ruled there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Baum for the 2017 killing of Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17.

The  54-page decision came two months after Morgan Henderson, Baum’s former girlfriend, testified that she had witnessed the kidnappings and murders. The state then filed a motion to bind the case over for trial and a two-day hearing was held March 6-7.

The bodies of both teens were thrown down into the mine shaft where they fell more than 100 feet and came to rest on a ledge, actions the court ruled constituted desecration of a human body by causing “blunt force trauma to them.”

The court also found evidence that Powell and Otteson were nearly decapitated when their throats were cut, which prompted the aggravated murder charges.

Additionally, the judge ruled there was “probable cause to believe that Baum mutilated and disfigured Riley’s body before death,” causing injuries to his neck and chest “permanently destroyed his airway, spinal cord and aorta,” as well as his genitals.

Baum’s actions demonstrated “depravity of mind,” the judge found.

Additionally, both teens were killed within minutes of each other and within hours of being kidnapped, which supported the aggravated kidnapping charges.

Prosecutors have yet to confirm whether they will seek the death penalty.

Baum was arrested March 27, 2018, just hours after police recovered the bodies of Otteson and Powell on a shallow ledge 100 feet down a 1,500-foot mine shaft. The two were reported missing in January 2018 after they had not been seen nor heard from since the day after Christmas.

Henderson testified that on Dec. 30, 2017, she invited Powell to the residence she and Baum shared at the time, even though Baum forbade her from having any visitors. Powell and his girlfriend, Otteson, arrived at the home where they visited with Henderson for about 40 minutes and then left.

Memorial for Riley Powell and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson at Tintic Standard Mine No. 2 where their bodies were found, March 2018 | Photo courtesy of Amanda Hunt, St. George News

Henderson said on the stand that shortly after the teens left Baum came to the residence angry and then ordered Henderson to leave with him. It wasn’t until she walked outside that she saw Powell’s Jeep, and in the back of the vehicle she saw both teens with duct tape over their mouths and bound with rope.

Baum then drove them to the Tintic Standard No. 2 mine near Mammoth where he cut the ropes from the teens’ legs and ordered them to start walking toward the mine where they found an open mine shaft that was 10 feet in diameter.

Henderson said she and Otteson were ordered to kneel down, and then Baum began to hit and stab Powell repeatedly until he fell to the ground.

Next, Baum got behind Otteson and “took her in his arms” before she told him, “I promise, I won’t tell anyone,” to which he replied, “It’s OK darlin. Shh.” Baum then killed Otteson by cutting her throat which severed her airway, right carotid artery and both jugular veins before she was dropped down the mine shaft.

Immediately after, Henderson said, Baum had a “big grin on his face” when he told her, “I’ve never killed an innocent before.” Later that night, Henderson testified that Baum told her “it had been a long time since he killed anyone and he had forgotten how good it felt.”

The bodies were discovered in the mine March 27, 2018, after Henderson led investigators to the area where she believed the couple was killed.

Baum faces two first-degree felony counts of aggravated murder and two first-degree felony counts of aggravated kidnapping, along with second-degree felony obstruction of justice. He also faces three third-degree felony charges, including abuse or desecration of a human body and one count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person.

Baum has a criminal history dating back to 1992 that includes multiple convictions for aggravated robbery, burglary, weapons offenses, theft and aggravated assault.

Baum is being represented by the Utah County Public Defender’s Office in Provo. An arraignment hearing has yet to be scheduled.

This report is based on statements from police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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