Jerrod Baum found guilty of murder, other six counts in Utah teens’ deaths

Apr 15, 2022, 3:15 PM | Updated: Jun 20, 2022, 1:25 pm

PROVO, Utah — Jerrod Baum has been found guilty on all eight counts, including aggravated murder, in the 2017 deaths of 17-year-old Breezy Otteson and 18-year-old Riley Powell.

On Friday, the verdict returned guilty on two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of abuse or desecration of a dead human body, one count of obstruction of justice, and one count of possession of a weapon by a restricted person.

The families of the victims were emotional and crying but composed as they listened carefully to each of the eight counts.

After the verdict was read, the eight jury members were polled about each of the charges and confirmed the verdicts.

Outside the courtroom, the families of Riley and Breezy said they were happy with the verdict but upset that the death penalty was taken off the table by the Utah County Attorney.

“The death penalty was taken away from us and that’s what we wanted,” said Bill Powell, Riley’s dad. “This is the next best thing, so we don’t have any complaints, at least I don’t.”

“To hear that first guilty was, it was like a weight lifted,” said Amanda Davis, Breezy’s aunt.

“I was super nervous, but I’m glad we got the guilty,” said Riley’s sister Nika.

Nothing came quickly in this case.

“We waited four years for justice for these kids, so, at the end of the day, we can wait, and it was worth the wait,” Davis said.

The families are just grateful justice came in the end.

“It’s been long overdue, but we did it,” Davis said. “We got justice for the kids.”

Before we learned that the jury had reached a verdict around 3 p.m., the families of the victims say they were feeling a little bit nervous about how long deliberations were taking, but that all that nervousness went away once they heard the guilty verdicts.

They say a lot of their focus now shifts to remembering Breezy and Riley. They have the memorial site and they say they’re hopeful for a memorial park.

Of course, they’re still waiting for sentencing. That will take place on June 1.

During closing arguments of the trial, the prosecution urged the jury to convict Baum while the defense told the jury that the testimony from Baum’s girlfriend at the time of the teens’ murders isn’t reliable and doesn’t match evidence.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Jerrod Baum kidnapped Riley and Breezy, murdered Riley and Breezy, threw their bodies in a mine shaft. We ask that you find him guilty,” said Deputy Utah County Attorney Christine Scott.

“She has proven herself to be unworthy of your belief,” defense attorney Dallas Young said. “You cannot believe her and you cannot be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Jerrod Baum is innocent and you must acquit.”

In late December, 2017, victims Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, then 17 and Riley Powell, then 18, visited Morgan Lewis Henderson, who is known as Morgan Lewis in the 2022 murder trial, in Mammoth, Utah.

Powell and Otteson were last seen together in Spanish Fork on their way home to Eureka, where they lived with Powell’s grandfather. By Jan. 2, 2018, the teens were reported missing and detectives investigated the home where Baum and Henderson lived.

Powell’s jeep was later found and called “highly suspicious” by investigators who said foul play was suspicious. Police spoke with Baum and Lewis.

In March of 2018, Henderson was pulled over for speeding and arrested on suspicion of drug and weapons charges. She told police Baum killed the teens and led them to the Tintic Standard mine. With the aid of a camera, two bodies were located about 100 feet down the mine shaft. The victims had their hands tied and appeared to have stab wounds.

In the trial, Lewis described watching Baum throw the teens’ bodies down the mineshaft. She said he then forced her to bathe in bleach and burned her clothing in a barrel to destroy evidence.

The defense argued Lewis made inconsistent statements, and in court, there was discussion about the defense suggesting that Lewis was coerced or influenced by police during their interviews of her.

Prosecutors set out to rebut that claim, playing several recordings from those interviews while Lewis was on the stand. She then clarified that she gave those statements un-coerced, stating she was not promised a plea bargain if she told detectives what happened.

I wanted them to know what happened. I wanted them to know where Riley and Breezy were. The police had come and raided our house and left, and didn’t find anything so they moved on — like, he got away with it, and I was not okay with that,” Lewis said. “And I felt a lot of guilt and shame. I wanted those families to know where their teenagers were. I didn’t want them to sit in that hole forever.”

Lewis said before the killings, Baum forced her to participate in a blood ritual and wouldn’t allow her to have male friends. She realized then how dangerous he was and decided to comply with his demands for fear of her own safety.

Despite this, she said when she ran into Powell at a gas station and spoke with him. They continued to talk over Facebook messenger that Baum somehow found out about and she said she knew she was in big trouble.

KSL Radio reports Lewis said during the trial, after the discovery, said she could feel “violence in the air” as she approached Powell’s Jeep, knowing something was wrong. Then, she said she could see two people in the back cargo area, bound with duct tape.

“He went to the back of the car… of the Jeep, and I could see that Riley and Breezy were tied up,” she said.

TIMELINE: Investigation, trial in the killings of Breezy Otteson and Riley Powell

Lewis said she was present when Baum killed the pair and heard Powell say he was dying as he was repeatedly stabbed. She said he killed Otteson next and Lewis felt the victim’s warm blood on her leg. She said Baum had a big grin on his face after the killings and said he had never killed an innocent before.

In opening statements, Baum’s defense team told the jury he was not guilty of the murders and said prosecutors relied too heavily on Lewis’ statement to build its case.

“They rushed in before they finished doing their homework. The result of this is that Mr. Baum is now facing charges for something he didn’t do,” Young said.

Before this murder case, Baum was charged with attempted murder, aggravated robbery and multiple counts of theft when he was 15, eventually pleading guilty to four second-degree felony counts of theft. In 1994, Baum was also charged in connection with a five-hour riot at the Central Utah Correctional facility in Gunnison. Court records also show multiple alleged weapons violations.

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Jerrod Baum found guilty of murder, other six counts in Utah teens’ deaths