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Man accused of murdering, tossing young couple in mine shaft ordered to stand trial

(Stu Johnson, KSL TV)


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PROVO — A man accused of murdering a young couple and dumping their bodies down an abandoned mine shaft as his girlfriend watched in horror has been ordered to stand trial.

Prosecutors have not yet determined whether they will seek the death penalty for Jerrod William Baum, who is charged with aggravated murder in the deaths of Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne "Breezy" Otteson, 17, of Eureka.

Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan ruled Monday there is enough evidence for the case against Baum to advance on each criminal count he faces.

The decision follows vivid testimony from Baum’s former girlfriend, who recounted during a March preliminary hearing that Baum became enraged one night in December 2017 when he found out she had friends over. He bound and gagged the young couple, bringing them to a snowy mine shaft near Eureka where he stabbed them and tossed their bodies in the mine, according to Henderson, who also uses the last name Lewis.

“Baum appears to have murdered them for the same reason — because they had visited Lewis at Baum’s residence against his express prohibition,” the judge wrote in a 53-page decision. Pullan noted that Powell was found with 11 wounds that “constituted torture,” in addition to other deadly injuries.

Investigators found the couple’s bodies in the Tintic Standard No. 2 mine about three months later with help from Henderson, who admitted to 10 counts of obstructing justice, a second-degree felony, and agreed to testify against Baum last year in exchange for her release from jail once his case is resolved.

Baum, of the tiny Juab County community of Mammoth, has not yet entered pleas. His attorneys have pointed out that Henderson, 35, sometimes hallucinates because she has schizoaffective disorder and shock therapy treatments for depression have harmed her memory.

In addition to two counts of murder, a first-degree felony, Baum was ordered to stand trial on six other charges: two counts of aggravated kidnapping, first-degree felonies; two counts of abuse or desecration of a dead body plus possession of a weapon by a restricted person, third-degree felonies; and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt called the case “the most brutal and heinous” he has worked on in nearly three decades as an attorney. As his office weighs whether to pursue the death penalty, it must consider not just its capacity to prove the charges, but also the cost of Baum’s public defenders for a capital case, which could reach more than $1 million, he estimated.

An arraignment has not yet been scheduled.

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