Utah County Attorney will allow death penalty for accused murderer of two Eureka teens

Composite image using March file photo of Jerrod Baum (inset), over stock image of Utah County Sheriff's Office vehicle, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —  The man charged with murdering two Eureka teens and dumping their bodies into an open mine shaft will possibly face the death penalty.

On June 10, Jerrod William Baum pleaded not guilty to multiple charges relating to the 2017 murder of 17-year-old Brelynne Otteson and 18-year-old Riley Powell. Following Baum’s plea, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt had 60 days to decide if he was going to pursue the death penalty.

With only nine days to spare, Leavitt announced Wednesday he will be “leaving the death penalty on the table” for the jury to decide.

“I’m going to give the power back to people in the form of juries,” he said. “My decision has been to allow the death penalty to be considered in this case. That’s a very different thing than seeking the death penalty.”

On Dec. 30, 2017, Otteson and Powell met with Morgan Henderson, Baum’s girlfriend, in Baum’s home in Mammoth. According to Henderson’s testimony, Otteson and Powell smoked marijuana with her and were leaving as Baum returned home.

Henderson said she initially thought the teens had left, but shortly after, Baum led her outside where she found Otteson and Powell gagged and bound in the back of Powell’s Jeep.

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

During a preliminary hearing for Baum in March 2019, Henderson testified that Baum led her and the teens to the Tintic Standard No. 2 mine in the West Desert where he made Powell and Otteson kneel “execution style” to watch as he beat and stabbed Powell to death. Baum then killed Otteson by cutting her throat and threw both bodies into the abandoned mine.

The teens’ families reported them missing on Jan. 2, 2018, and their bodies were found in March.

Baum is currently charged with two counts of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping and abuse or desecration of a body, as well as one count each of obstructing justice and being a felon in possession of a dangerous weapon.

Henderson pleaded guilty to 10 counts of obstructing justice for lying to police during early investigations and is currently serving three years in the Utah County jail.

Both families have publicly stated their desire to pursue the death penalty – both on social media and in interviews – but according to an earlier statement, Leavitt believed monetary cost might have been a factor as to why the state would not pursue it.

“I’m not making this decision today based on money,” he said. “I raise it just to raise it. It has no bearing on my decision here today.”

Parents of the teens posted a poll to the “Justice for Breezy and Riley” Facebook page on July 23, asking followers if they are “for the death penalty or for life in prison.” Of the 2,000-plus votes, 92% voted for the death penalty.

More than half of the United States has the death penalty, but Utah is one of only two states with the option of death by firing squad and is the only state to exercise this power in the modern era. However, Utah has not held an execution since 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner became the third person to be executed by firing squad sine 1976.

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

Baum’s is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 12 at 1:00 p.m. in Utah County.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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