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PROVO — A Juab County man who is accused of killing two teenagers and dumping their bodies in an abandoned mine shaft in December 2017 has pleaded not guilty.
On Monday, Jerrod William Baum, 42, of Eureka, pleaded not guilty in 4th District Court to eight felonies, court records show. They include two counts of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping and abuse or desecration of a human body, as well as one count each of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and obstructing justice, according to court records.
Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17, went missing near the Juab County town of Mammoth on Dec. 30, 2017. Their remains were found three months later, with the help of Baum's then-girlfriend, Morgan Henderson.
For the couple's families, Baum’s plea didn’t come as a surprise.
“We knew a long time ago he was going to plead not guilty,” said Bill Powell, Riley Powell’s father. “He’s that kind of person. He won’t own up to what he did. He’s a chicken.”
Amanda Hunt, Otteson's aunt, said she knew Baum was “going to drag it out.”
Both Hunt and Bill Powell want the death penalty pursued in this case. “Their lives were taken from them, and he shouldn’t get the right to be able to live,” Hunt said.
“They didn’t get a choice. They didn’t get a voice. They were prisoners and brutally murdered, so he deserves the same,” Bill Powell said.
We knew a long time ago he was going to plead not guilty. He’s that kind of person. He won’t own up to what he did. He’s a chicken.
–Bill Powell, Riley Powell's father
That decision lies on the shoulders of Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, who said it’s a possibility he will seek the death penalty for this case.
“It’s the heinousness of the crime; it’s how egregious it was,” Leavitt said.
Investigators say Riley Powell and Otteson left Tooele on the night of Dec. 30, and had planned to stop in Spanish Fork before going home to Eureka, where they lived. But they never made it home.
The couple were listed as missing until March 28, when two bodies were recovered from about 100 feet down the Tintic Standard Mine No. 2 near Mammoth, Juab County. A medical examiner later confirmed that the two bodies were those of Powell and Otteson.
Henderson initially told investigators in January 2018 that she did not have any knowledge of their deaths.
But in March 2018 she was interviewed again after being arrested in an unrelated case. She told investigators grim details about the deaths of the young couple, according to charging documents. She said she was with Baum when he bound their hands and feet, drove them to a remote location, and killed them before dumping their bodies into the mine shaft, the charges state.
Henderson told investigators that Baum was upset that the teens had visited her Eureka home about 11 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2017.
She told investigators that after Baum drove the two to the remote mine shaft, he forced Otteson to watch as he beat and killed Powell before also killing her, according to charges.
Henderson said Baum later told her “that he had made Riley suffer,” but felt bad about Otteson, so he made her death quick and painless, charging documents state.
Injuries that were later found on the two bodies matched those that Henderson described, according to the charges.
Henderson was charged with 10 counts of obstructing justice, to which she pleaded guilty in October 2018, court records show.
She has agreed to cooperate fully and honestly with prosecutors in Baum’s case, according to an October 2018 plea agreement.
She will remain in jail for either three years from her March 30, 2018 arrest or throughout the duration of Baum’s case, whichever is shorter, according to the plea agreement. After that, she will be on probation for five years, the plea agreement states.
A decision on whether to pursue the death penalty in Baum's case hasn’t been made yet. Per state law, Leavitt has 60 days from Monday to decide whether or not he will seek the death penalty, however he said he will likely make the choice by the end of July.
Baum’s next court appearance is a pretrial conference scheduled for Aug. 12.
Contributing: Sam Penrod, KSL TV; Lauren Bennett, KSL.com