Jerrod Baum found guilty in murder of Breezy Otteson and Riley Powell

Posted at 4:38 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 20:01:15-04

PROVO, Utah — After a month-long trial and two days of deliberations, a jury found Jerrod Baum guilty Friday of murdering two teenagers in 2017 and disposing of their bodies in a Eureka mine.

Baum was found guilty on two counts apiece of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping and abuse of desecration of a human body in the deaths of 17-year-old Breezy Otteson and 18-year-old Riley Powell.

Sentencing was scheduled for June 1.

Otteson and Powell disappeared in Juab County on Dec. 30, 2017 and were reported missing days later.

Video below shows Judge Derek Pullan reading the verdicts in the Jerrod Baum trial

Judge reads verdict in trial of Jerrod Baum

Baum was arrested a few weeks later for probation violations at his Mammoth residence, along with his then-girlfriend, Morgan Lewis Henderson. A search warrant showed Henderson had communicated with Powell via Facebook the day before he and Otteson disappeared, and that they had met at a home Henderson shared with Baum and his father.

During a later interview, Henderson told detectives Baum "came into the house and got her" after Otteson and Powell had left their home in the early morning hours of December 30. She said she saw the teens tied up in the back of Powell's Jeep and that Baum "told her to get in the jeep and that they would go for a ride to have a talk."

Henderson said Baum used a knife to kill Otteson and Powell and then dumped their bodies in the abandoned mine.

Now known as Morgan Lewis, Baum's ex-girlfriend testified during his trial, with his defense team claiming her credibility could not be trusted, and that blood and DNA evidence didn't match up with her story.

Family of victims reacts to Jerrod Baum conviction below

Family of victims reacts to Jerrod Baum guilty verdict

Prosecutors countered the defense's claim, saying Lewis and Baum burnt and bleached all the important evidence and DNA, and that Baum also soaked key pieces of evidence in murky water to rid of any scenes from the crime.

"The state didn't have what you'd call an incredibly strong case," said Greg Skordas, a Utah-based defense attorney who spoke with FOX 13 News after the verdict. "They were relying on [Baum's] girlfriend, who was, by all accounts, not the greatest witness in the world; she turned out to be pretty good."

Skordas said the prosecution relying on the testimony of a single witness was one reason the case took around four years to reach a trial and verdict. Other reasons included the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that the teens' bodies weren't found for a few months, prosecutors considering the death penalty, and it being an aggravated murder case, which Skordas said always takes time.

Skordas also addressed the defense's strategy of trying to discredit Baum's girlfriend's account of what happened.

"Anytime you rely on someone like that, whether it's a confidential informant or a girlfriend or something like that... the state has to go into what we call 'corroboration' — how can they prove what she's saying is true?" he said. "For example, she takes them to a crime scene and says he disposed of the bodies here and they find the bodies there, that's corroborative. Or if she describes the manner of how the death occurred and the medical examiner corroborates that, that helps — that tends to show that what she's saying is true."

And while Baum has now been convicted, Skordas is certain there will be appeals over the next year or two.

"Given that it's an aggravated murder and the judge is almost certainly going to impose life in prison without the possibility of parole, [Baum] will file some appeals and look into what the state did and how they prosecuted the case and make sure that they did their job correctly — and make sure that his own attorneys did their job correctly," Skordas said.