Man Accused of Brutally Killing Utah Teens, Dumping Bodies in Mine Shaft
The three-month search for a missing teen couple ended at an abandoned mine shaft near Eureka, Utah, 100 feet below the ground where police found the bodies of 18-year-old Riley Powell and 17-year-old Brelynne "Breezy" Otteson.On Tuesday, prosecutors accused a 41-year-old man of putting them there.Jerrod William Baum is accused of brutally killing the teens and disposing their bodies in the mine shaft because they met up with his girlfriend. He has not been asked to file a plea yet and is awaiting appointment of a public defender to represent him.Sometime in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, according to the charges filed Tuesday, Baum came home to discover Powell and Otteson hanging out with Morgan Henderson. Baum, Henderson, 34, told police, was a jealous man: He had a strict rule prohibiting her from inviting male friends to the home, where they lived together.This, she told police, is why Baum bound the teens, placed them in the trunk of Powell's own Jeep Cherokee and drove them to the mine. He made Henderson come with him, according to the charges. Once there, Baum allegedly forced Otteson to watch as he beat Powell and stabbed him to death, before killing her too and dumping their bodies down the shaft.He is charged with two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping, desecration of their bodies and obstruction of justice.Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander called the murders "heinous and depraved." "This is a potential capital case. Mr. Baum could die for what he allegedly did," Grunander said at a Tuesday news conference, adding the final decision about seeking the death penalty will be made at a later date.The two teenagers went missing the night of Dec. 29, 2017, never returning home to Powell's father's house, where both of them lived, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The house is in Eureka, an old mining town of 682 people. They had been dating for four months.By Jan. 2, family members reported them missing to the police. A helicopter spotted Powell's Jeep Cherokee just over a week later, tucked in the mud among cedar trees near Cherry Creek Reservoir, its tires slashed and a tie-down strap dangling from its driver's side window. The couple was nowhere in sight."Because of the circumstances surrounding that discovery," Juab County Sheriff Douglas Anderson said at a March 29 news conference, "it became evident that we were dealing with foul play . . ..." Henderson and Baum first came under suspicion several days later. Police obtained a warrant to search Powell's Facebook account, and they soon found messages he had exchanged with Henderson on the night he and Otteson disappeared.According to court documents, Henderson invited the teenagers to come over to her and Baum's home sometime after midnight, in neighbouring Mammoth, Utah, a ghost town whose population dwindled with the close of the mines years ago.Over the course of three interviews with investigators, her story about what happened that night, in the early hours of Dec. 30, would change dramatically. First, she said she and the teen couple smoked marijuana for about 40 minutes, and then they left, and she never heard from them again. Two months later, she decided to reveal the rest of the story, ultimately leading police to the mine, according to court documents.According to the criminal complaint, she told police Baum "arrived home upset" that she was having the visitors.Outside, Baum allegedly "bound the victims' hands and feet, duct-taped their mouths, and placed them in the back of Riley's jeep," prosecutors wrote in the complaint.Baum then went back inside and told Henderson to come out, she told police. "Jerrod told her to get in the jeep and that they would go for a ride to have a talk," police wrote.They soon arrived at the abandoned Tintic Standard Mine No. 2, once a haven for precious metals mining in the early 20th century, until it closed in 1949. The mine shaft, now full of graffiti, is a 1,800-foot-deep concrete shaft, and Baum, Henderson said, brought the teenagers to its edge."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," prosecutors wrote in the charging complaint. Baum had "made Riley suffer," but "felt bad about Brelynne, so he made her death quick and painless," Henderson said Baum told her after the killings.Henderson ultimately led police to the area near the mine and to the sludge barrel where Baum allegedly hid the teenagers' destroyed cellphones, the duct tape, several lengths of rope, two knife sheaths and a tie-down strap, just like the one found dangling on the window of Powell's Jeep. She then admitted to driving the Jeep off to a far, remote location in attempt to hide it, according to the probable cause statement.Henderson has been arrested on charges of obstruction of justice, but Grunander said prosecutors are reviewing possible additional charges. She has not filed a plea yet and no lawyer was known to be representing her.Baum is currently being held without bail. He appeared before a judge Tuesday to hear the charges lodged against him. A judge agreed to appoint a public defender to represent him. No attorney spoke on his behalf or could be reached for comment.Speaking to reporters the day after their loved ones were found, Powell's father, Bill Powell, and Otteson's aunt, Amanda Hunt, said that finding the teenagers was not enough to bring them closure. They questioned how someone could have killed them "over nothing," Bill Powell said."None of it makes sense," he said. "Here's two kids that had their whole life ahead of them, and it's gone." "These are just kids," Hunt added. "He's a 41-year-old man. And regardless - I guess the mentality is not there, but you don't kill kids for jealousy." On Tuesday, following Baum's first court appearance, Bill Powell and Hunt said they would support the death penalty for Baum. As the teenagers' family members gathered in the courtroom gallery, Baum entered shackled in a yellow jumpsuit to hear the charges read against him. Merely seeing him, the family said later, was emotionally draining."It's just hard to realize they're gone now," Powell's sister, Nikki Powell, told reporters."Really gone."